Harry John Tiley

I am an aspiring writer, based in Portsmouth, whose interests involve gaming, film and TV culture. I have just finished a creative and media writing course at the University of Portsmouth. I am now seeking writing work of any kind. Leave a comment and I'll get back to you. Cheers.

Rambles in Portsmouth (And Beyond)

As a native of the Isle of Wight, (please hold all jokes until the end of the article), I get the indescribable pleasure of using the Wight-link ferry on a regular basis. My craft of choice, out of the three available, is the car ferry. Not because I own or trust myself to drive a car, but because it’s cheaper, slower and all around funnier. Let me describe a typical journey.

First things first, you get your arse to Fishbourne, where from the ferry departs. You buy yourself a ticket from the ticket-shack, get evil-eyed by the cashier, pause briefly to have a heart-attack over the price of a drink from the shop and then proceed to the jetty. After waiting however long it takes for your vessel to arrive, during which time you will most likely have an cross-eyed old man try to sell you a Tesco-bag of assorted fish-viscera (as is the way of the Wight), you may board. Foot passengers board first, so be sure to make rude hand gestures at the rows of patient motorists as you do so, then pray none of them find you once aboard.

The floating tank in which you now find yourself, is comprised of 5 levels. Two car decks, a coffee lounge, the deck and the bridge. To access the stairwells, you must first pass a set of bulkhead doors, which are opened by pressing a big yellow button to their right. This will be the highlight of the journey. Be warned that these doors slide shut whenever they bloody well feel like it, so ten points if you can time it right and squish a pensioner. That’s one less person in the queue for coffee.

If you managed to drag yourself up the three flights of stairs, you will now enter the lounge, which is basically a floating, more expensive Costa. These places are well known for their ability to turn even the most upstanding member of society into a self-obsessed, post-ironic hipster who will pull a laptop out of thin air and set to work writing a screenplay. Fuelled by a mixture of insecurity and lukewarm latte macchiato. So just grab a few sugar packets for sustenance and make a bee-line for the nearest door to the deck.

The deck is cold, damp and most likely crammed with smokers. But it’s preferable to the post-ironic orgy that is currently occurring in the lounge, as legions of grizzled truck drivers hammer out the next bestseller onto numerous crumb-riddled keyboards. So just find a spare stretch of rail and try to resist the urge to jump. It is here you will find the only enjoyable moments of your journey, as you watch the Isle of Wight slowly slide away into the mist. The hill fires of the blood-cults fade from view and all seems right with the world. This will be shortly ruined as the half-sunken grey mess known locally as Portsmouth hoves into view.

The remainder of the voyage will be spent gazing up at windows of the bridge, mentally willing the captain not to spill his cup of Tetley on the control panel and send us all down to get Davy Jones’ autograph. (Who the hell is Davy Jones anyway?) If you find yourself bored, simply move to the bow or stern and see if you can spit on someone’s windscreen. Bonus points if they left the sun-roof open.

Finally you will near your destination. As the Spinnaker Tower looms menacingly above you, you may recall as I have many a time, that we are supposed to call it the Emirates Spinnaker Tower now. At which point you will laugh sardonically, turn to leave and contemplate that even at sea, you will never escape the mixture of hilarious social incompetence and slow, grating boredom that is the British Isles.

Going Back to Oblivion

20160513164050_1Crouched in the dense grass, arrow notched and ready. Above me, a seemingly endless storm boils in the clouded sky and a cold rain falls. Ahead, half shrouded in mist, a single deer slowly raises its head. I freeze. I bring the arrow to my cheek and focus. Time seems to slow.

Sat in my darkened bedroom, thick duvet surrounding me in heavenly warmth. Outside, a bitter wind hammers at the window and a pale moon rises. I sit, transfixed by the flickering screen of my small bedroom TV. I readjust my grip on the controller and hold my breath. Time seems to slow.

This is my strongest memory playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the first game I ever bought for my now-long-dead Xbox 360. A fantasy RPG developed by Bethesda Game Studios, Oblivion is a game of epic scale and truly psychotic depth with hundreds of detailed quests, characters, dungeons, towns and villages. It’s even got some fantastic voice acting from Captain Jean Luc Picard himself: Patrick Stewart and the master of the dramatic death scene: Sean Bean! It is the game that introduced me to The Elder Scrolls series and fantasy RPGs in general. But sadly, a fatal case of red-ring claimed the life of my Xbox a few years ago and the adventures of Hamma the Nord Warrior died along with it.

So imagine my jubilation last summer, when  I picked up the GOTY edition of Oblivion for PC in a Steam summer sale. Finally, a return to those naive and blissful days of fantasy escapism! However, there was a proverbial spanner in the works. On returning to the world of Cyrodiil, all was not well. My rose-tinted, nostalgia glasses were gone and the game’s relative old age was painfully obvious. Ugly textures, a supremely un-intuitive interface and numerous immersion-breaking bugs. After twenty minutes, I retreated back into the comforting wilderness of Skyrim, my happy memories in tatters. I found the nearest inn, bought a bottle of wine and took a seat by the fire, disillusioned and defeated. It was then that a glimmer of hope appeared in my mind, in the form of single four-letter word.

Mods. The very word is synonymous for me with frustration and disappointment. As a notoriously non-tech-savvy human being with a burning hatred of following instructions, attempting to modify my favourite games has never worked well for me. The last straw came when I accidentally corrupted my Fallout 3 save file and lost about a hundred hours of progress due to skipping a step in the installation process. Since that fateful day, the world of modding had been, for all intents and purposes, dead to me. But as I watched the serving wench glitch out and walk repeatedly into a solid wall while endlessly asking me if I wanted a drink, I thought that perhaps my idealised image of Oblivion could be recreated with the help of the dedicated fans. Hmmmm…

In order to succeed in this herculean endeavour, it turns out all one needs is the mind-numbing level of patience only achievable through months of mental training at a secret monastery in Tibet (or prescription medication.)

Read the readme , read it again, install, read it again just to check, boot game, test mod, close game, repeat.

All that for one bloody mod! All I wanted was the dungeons to be a little darker or a way to cancel a bow shot! However, the confusion, frustration and seemingly endless lists of requirements and settings is certainly worth the end result. After a few hours I was left with a group of mods that did nothing to change the content or mechanics, but increased immersion, graphics, performance and all in all; made the entire game feel five years younger. Here’s a little rundown if you fancy trying them out:

Unofficial Oblivion Patch

This mod simply fixes the several bugs found in the base game. Goodbye gravity defying paint brushes. So long game-breaking duplication glitch. Au revoir teleporting city guards who used to give me a fucking heart attack all the time! (“STOP CRIMINAL SCUM!!!”)

DarNified UI

This chucks out the clunky console-oriented interface and replaces it with a sleeker, more informative and extremely PC-friendly UI. The difference is incalculable and you can customise the balls off it through a new, in-game menu.

Oblivion Character Overhaul

One of the more glaring aspects of Oblivion‘s maturity as a product is the fact that the character faces look like someone went at them with a shovel covered in bees. This handy mod updates the textures, adds new variants and hairstyles and gives the whole game the literal “facelift” it desperately needs.

Natural Environments

This mod improves pretty much every component of the games’ atmosphere and environment. From new weather types and effects to adding extra flora and fauna, this may be my personal favourite as it does absolute wonders for immersion.

Alternative Start – Arrive by Ship

The last of my major modifications, this allows the player to skip the starting mission in which you and Emperor Stewart fuck around in the sewers for half an hour and lets you start the game instantly. Choose your face, choose your race, choose your place and then off ya’ go! Beautiful.

There are a few others, but really they’re just fixes for my personal gripes with the game or enhancers for certain play-styles. The best thing with a modding community this extensive is that anyone can tailor the game to whatever level they wish, so you’ll always be able to find something you’d like to see. (Especially if what you like to see is naked NPCs… seriously… what is with the Oblivion and Skyrim fan-base and pervvy mods?)

Perversions aside, if you want to re-experience a classic game; mod yourself back to Oblivion and be prepared to get addicted all over again.

R.I.P The Dorne Subplot

It is well established that the 6th season of HBO’s TV adaptation of George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has strayed somewhat from the plotline of the source material. Strayed so far in fact, that most fans now consider the two versions “alternate universes”. That is to say, the same world but a different version. A version in which Brienne and The Hound took turns kicking each other in the crotch until one fell down. A version where Bran made it to the Three-Eyed Crow without the help of a dead man riding an elk. A version where Jaime Lannister decided to take a package holiday in Dorne instead of ending the siege of Riverrun. You get the idea.

Understandably, a lot of book fans (myself included) tend to get a tad miffed when the show-runners mess with established plot. The biggest and most bitterly disputed example of this recently has been the ruination of a subplot centred around the Dornish house of Martell and their schemes. For those of you who consider reading books  to be about as much fun as an afternoon in Guantanamo Bay, here’s a short recap of the book version:

Both the show and the book introduce Doran Martell, brother of fan-favourite: Oberyn Martell, as the timid and gout-ridden prince of Dorne. Where Oberyn was a sex-crazed, revenge-seeking,”say-my-name-while-I-stick-my-spear-in-you” type of guy, Doran is the savvy, cautious and calculating political leader keeping Dorne from having the other six kingdoms rammed up its arse. He’s a man with a plan. A master plan! A plan that involves conquering the seven kingdoms no less. How you ask? Well from here it gets complicated…

Doran’s initial plan was to marry his daughter Arianne (not in the show) to Daenerys’ brother Viserys (in the show). However that plan was nipped in the bud when Viserys was given his first and last “golden” shower. Doran’s second attempt involved sending his eldest son; Quentyn (definitely not in the show), to marry Daenerys and help her invade Westeros. He leaves in secret on a ship that eventually gets attacked by corsairs, joins a sell-sword company and fights at the siege of Astapor, he defects to Daario’s Stormcrows and finally manages to reach the council chamber of Mereen.

And what does he win?! About the square root of fuck-all.

On hearing his proposal, Daario gives him the “ha-ha!” speech he’d been practising for Jorah Mormont’s inevitable return, Daenerys informs him she is already betrothed and then kindly advises him to get the fuck out of her implausibly big pyramid. However Quentyn is not deterred so easily. After a few failed attempts at persuading her, he reasons that his Targaryen heritage might let him tame one of Dany’s imprisoned dragons. This goes about as well as you’d imagine. Quentyn does manage to make it Daenerys’ bed afterwards but only as a horrifically burned  mess who doesn’t take long to kick the bucket. The mother of dragons has done a bunk by this point and the city full of chaos and confusion. All in all, I’d say: Mission Failed.

Doran meanwhile, unaware of his eldest son’s colossal cock-up, sets out to payback House Lannister for their crimes against his kin. After crushing Arianne’s feeble attempt to establish Myrcella as a candidate for the Iron Throne, he rallies the three Sand Snakes and gives them each a task.

The tough and hot-headed Obara is to lead one of the Kingsguard on a wild goose chase to buy time, the beautiful and deadly Nymeria is to take Oberyn’s seat on the small council and the sweet and pious Tyene is to infiltrate the sept and befriend the High Sparrow. It is from the positions the Doran hopes House Martell will be able to undermine House Lannister, “robbing them of all they hold dear” before destroying them.

Quite the plan eh? Could make for a lot of interesting developments right? Well, according to the show: Nope. Quentyn is never mentioned. Arianne doesn’t exist. It’s Ellaria that defies Doran’s will by poisoning Myrcella with a kiss. And finally, the cherry on the sundae: Ellaria and Tyene murder Doran and his bad-ass bodyguard Areo Hotah  and pretty much take over Dorne, while Obara and Nymeria murder Trystane and disappear!

This left a lot of fans with a few pressing questions. Such as:

“What the fuck was that?”

Or:

“Why didn’t anyone attempt to aid their prince as somebody stabbed him?”

And finally:

“Where in Robert Baratheon’s wine-soaked beard did those two come from?”

In answer to the first, that was everyone in Dorne collectively abandoning all common sense.

In answer to the second, Ellaria explains that the people of Dorne are tired of Doran’s perceived weakness and timidity. This is a little implausible surely? Did the people of Dorne hold a meeting and decide they all wanted to go to war? No-one had any objections to the mass death and mortal peril this rash action entailed? Jeez.

And in answer to the third: I guess Obara and Nymeria were waiting in King’s Landing for the ship? Or maybe they stowed away… Hard to say. Even harder to say is what exactly they plan to do now?!

This up-in-the-air storytelling is exactly what throws the fans off and makes them uncomfortable as Dorne is now pretty much whatever the show-runners need it to be. Mostly likely it’ll be a cheap enabler for one of the more prominent characters’ return to Westeros. In effect, robbing the fans of the epic tale of revenge, subterfuge and turmoil that the House Martell of the books provided.

Summing up then, what is Septa Unella’s favourite word?

Shame.

Shame, Shame, Shame.

 

5 Cheap Games That You MUST Play.

The title says it all really. But for you really ungrateful sods who still doubt that I’m doing you a favour, I’ll even break them down by type. There. Happy? Thought not.

1. Thomas Was Alone

If your are looking for innovation in story and character, look no further than Thomas Was Alone, a subtle and sublime 2D platformer. Quirky, funny and heart-warming narration attributes coloured rectangles with fully fleshed out character and charm. No hyper-realistic graphics. Just simple gaming done beautifully. Described by a prominent critic as “a storybook for grown-ups” and as “a warm, story-telling hug”, Thomas Was Alone shows exactly the kind of experience gamers agree that bigger projects lack. If you haven’t played it, find it and just let it in. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it.

2/3. Nidhogg and Gang Beasts.

There is a gaming experience that I hold to be my most enjoyed and most fondly recollected, and that is local multiplayer. You, a mate, some food and drink, a boring rainy afternoon and an all-out, gun-toting, punch-swinging, laugh-inducing battle royale. It is this sense of common nostalgia that games such as Nidhogg and Gang Beasts appeal to. Both are built with the express purpose of bringing friends back to the sofa, and back into frantic personal combat. Whether it’s Nidhogg‘s sword-swinging duels, or Gang Beast’s jelly-baby wrestling matches, you and your chosen opponent are in for a hell of a good time. After all, multiplayer loses something when you can’t turn around and spray a mixture of profanity and crumbs in the face of the dude who just killed you.

4. Overgrowth

And now for something completely different. Overgrowth. You ready for this? Ok. Control a procedurally animated rabbit and battle it out with other furry competitors in bone-crunching, spine-snapping, kung fu combat… See? You weren’t expecting that were you? Still being developed by a small team over the course of the last 4 years, Overgrowth has gained a dedicated fan following and is praised all over the web for its highly original, dynamic combat system. All this, from kung fu rabbits. You can’t make this stuff up.

5. Papers Please

Finally, for pure talent and flawless execution, Papers Please. While taking the job of an immigration inspector at a border checkpoint  may not sound so exciting, Papers Please turns it into a grim tale of corruption, violence and suffering in which nobody’s hands (especially the players) are clean. If anything illustrates the monumental difference between triple A productions and independent, it is this  game. Stamping REJECTED on someone’s passport made me feel infinitely worse here, than mowing down hundreds of generic soldiers in a bland, run-of-the-mill first person shooter made by a larger, better funded company.

There you go. Buy em’, install em’, play em’. I promise they’ll keep you so busy that close relatives may report you as a missing person.

Rodina: Game Review

The engine room is ablaze. Atmospheric pressure is ripping the hull apart as your ship plummets towards the planet surface, spinning uncontrollably. The pounding synth track steps up a notch as energy blasts whip past the starboard engine. You break the atmosphere, narrowly dodging the peak of a colossal mountain. The surface looms ever-closer. No time to disengage the cruise drive now. Brace for impact.

Welcome to Rodina.

Indie space games have had a good run recently. FTL brought us adrenaline-fuelled, addictive gameplay. Kerbal Space Program gave us realistic astrophysics, orbital mechanics and all the tools we needed to mess with them. And now Rodina has raised the game once again, bringing a new level of choice and immersion to the space-sim. I should mention that this game is early access, meaning that it is still in development and is therefore only the foundations of a much larger project. But even in its current state, Rodina boasts a scale and sense of freedom which is unparalleled in today’s gaming scene.

The game mechanics centre around first person exploration, switching to third person when you pilot your trusty space-craft. From the jump, you are encouraged to fly around, salvage ammunition and ship upgrades, fight off enemy vessels and visit new planets. The GUI is enjoyably minimalistic, guiding you but not making you feel like you are being led around by the nose. Ship to ship combat plays out like any combat-flight game, enabling you to roll, dive and manoeuvre while firing an impressive array of futuristic weaponry. The controls are enjoyably smooth and responsive, making dogfights fun yet keeping them challenging enough to warrant your full attention. Another facet of the gameplay is the ability to customize the interior of your ship. A large choice of props, tile-sets and lighting options allows the player make their vessel unique and personal as well as adding new dynamics to gameplay. My recommendation: Make sure a fire extinguisher is installed in all rooms. I learnt that one the hard way.

On starting the game you are alone on a desolate asteroid. You enter your name, locate your ship and after a non-intrusive tutorial on basic piloting, you are free to explore. From this point onwards, the game’s story is told through personal logs and intercepted messages that you find in amongst salvage and supplies. These are all well-written and range in style and content from intriguing to comedic to downright tragic. While the story is bare-bones at best, it suits the lonely, isolated tone perfectly and quickly drew me into the world. One of the game’s most often praised features is its stellar soundtrack. John Robert Matz creates a plethora of electronic soundscapes and scores which accompany every moment perfectly. Whether it’s a pulse-pounding techno beat to ramp up the tension in a battle, or a sweeping orchestral piece to welcome you to a new world. There is a real “epic” edge to the music that mixes with the game’s scale and open-ended nature to create an immersive, cinematic experience.

As to be expected in its current unfinished state, the game does have a few issues. More than once I have finished customizing my new ship layout and on exiting the menu have found myself unceremoniously stuck in a nearby wall, unable to do anything but quit to desktop and restart. A few other bugs and crashes still exist in the game, however the developer is quick to post fixes and updates so these niggles don’t present a serious problem. Value for money is also a concern. In its current state the replay value is low and players could find themselves tiring of the same old planets and enemies. I would advise however, as a concept Rodina has huge potential and with the addition of further content always on the horizon, it has nowhere to go but up. The developer has stated that his end goal is a “Daggerfall in space” RPG-like experience. If that isn’t an idea that excites you then, as a gamer, you are beyond help.

The final glaring problem (for some players at least) could be the low-fi, un-textured quality of the graphics. I’ll admit that right now, Rodina is not a beautiful game, at least not aesthetically. Your ship’s exterior looks like it’s recently landed in a muddy field and the planet surfaces are essentially barren deserts broken up by occasional piles of salvage. However this is all subject to the ongoing development. Plus, having such retro visuals is what enables the player to fly from planet to planet, enter the atmosphere, land, get out and stumble around without encountering a single loading screen. At least, for now, I would consider that a fair trade.

Rodina has been a blast to play, with my total in-game playtime nearing twenty hours. As a result I watch the update feed like a hawk and I can’t wait to see what avenues of gameplay the developer will unlock next. If you’re a sci-fi fan and want a customizable, open-ended and immersive gaming experience; go out and buy Rodina. If you’re not, then buy it anyway. After all, in space no-one can hear you spend.