Fiascos and the verge of the impossible

July 15th, 2014

I always thought Alessi were a pretty grotesque design company, making expensive objects that bastardise functionality and beauty. The classic: Starck’s Juicy Salif, an orange squeezer that appears to reinvent the way we extract juice from citrus fruit with elegance and simplicity, and which makes a whole fucking mess of it. And what’s this? Here I am beguiled by founder Alberto Alessi in a new interview with The Guardian. He calls Alessi customers ‘design victims’ (“Design victims are very important to our business model”) and calls another Starck project, the Hot Bertaa kettle, “a complete fiasco”, going on to say something amazing:

It’s very important to work on the verge of the impossible, without veering into products that people will not understand or buy. We must have one or two fiascos a year to retain our leadership in design.

Maybe that’s a pretty amazing attitude to have.

Fugazi is the message

April 9th, 2014

Fugazi have been archiving and making available to buy live recordings of their about-a-billion gigs, which is such a fantastic project, partly for the fact the whole thing plays so true to their attitude. Done themselves, and in this context:

There is a lot to be excited about in the ways we produce and consume music in 2014, but it’s often difficult to decipher where the music ends and the contextual media structures around it begin. The best thing about Fugazi, and the live series, is that the music is always the message. There are no Facebook or Twitter logos polluting its pages; no publicist blasting emails about how Dischord is revolutionizing music; no attempt to sell to a nostalgic market. For MacKaye, it remains a matter of completing a simple task demanded by a pile of tapes that captured a small slice of American history.

→ Fugazi’s sound and fury, now on demand

I made a website

October 15th, 2013

Soon after we moved to Bath in 2007, my wife started up her own cake making company called Baby Cakes. It’s turned out to be rather successful! Her cakes have been featured in American Vogue, she’s Stork margarine’s official baking expert and has judged national cake competitions, and she’s left a trail of many happy customers behind her.

Anyway, my small part in it is that I made her website. Actually I’ve made three of them now. We launched her latest back in spring this year; I built it on WordPress with the intention of really whetting visitors’ appetites by featuring big pictures and just a few words to describe them. It therefore benefits from some great photos of Hannah’s work by John Barwood.

baby_cakes_site

The main design challenge was that most pictures of cakes are portrait, which isn’t an ideal format for websites. I think the site solves it reasonably well, using panels to take visitors through the site and two side-by-side portrait pictures for galleries.

It really popped, though, when I found its two typefaces: Maiola for the main body text and titles, and Brandon Grotesque for navigation and caption text. Together I think they convey the sense of simple elegance and character I wanted to achieve. I’m pretty satisfied with it.

Dyad review

October 14th, 2013

dyad

Dyad is a lovely game, and I reviewed it for PC Gamer.

There aren’t many games that can be described as beautiful, but Dyad is one of them. Spinning together a mesmerising blend of music and image with tight and ever-shifting game rules, it’s one of the most beguiling and uplifting games I’ve experienced. And that’s speaking as a Rez obsessive.

→ Read in full at PC Gamer

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon review

October 13th, 2013

blood_dragon

AGES ago, I reviewed for PC Gamer Ubisoft’s standalone offshoot of Far Cry 3. Blood Dragon is an odd game, engineered to achieve multiple aims: to get the internet LOLing at its 80s action game stylings; to reuse as much of FC3′s graphical assets as possible; and to somehow fit into Far Cry’s Heart of Darkness-y pondering of the nature of masculinity and unfettered violence. It kind of works! At least in the sense that chops away anything that gets in the way of running, leaping, driving and firing guns. But the screenshot I took above kind of epitomises my thoughts about it.

I’d just dropped the kids off at school when one of the fathers asked me what games I was playing. He’s no gamer but I thought he might at least gel with the concept of Blood Dragon: a sci-fi shooter and heavy pastiche of ’80s action films, voiced by Michael Biehn. You know, out of The Terminator. Neon, synths, one-liners, chrome, ultraviolence, pixel graphics. He looked confused, maybe appalled. I faltered. “It’s kind of, well, a joke.”

→ Read in full at PC Gamer

Sokobond review

October 4th, 2013

sokobond

I wrote my first piece for Eurogamer on a fantastic puzzle game called Sokobond a couple of weeks ago. I don’t actually like puzzle games very much. Their typically stringent demands and lack of flexibility to explore their mechanics bores me. Sokobond is completely different.

To me, the best puzzle games feel like they’ve been discovered, not designed. Like they’ve always been there, waiting for someone to come along and uncover them. In the world of puzzle games, developers like Drop7 co-creator Frank Lantz are scientists or explorers, unearthing perfect gems which shine with a complexity that unfurls from a set of simple rules which, once you’ve grasped them, feel like natural laws. Sokobond is one of these puzzle games – and fittingly, when you start playing it, it feels like a game you’ve discovered, too.

→ Read in full at Eurogamer

Steam in the living room

October 2nd, 2013

I find the concept of Valve making a gaming PC for the living room fascinating for many reasons. There’s the drama in a software company trying to come to grips with making hardware. There’s Valve’s determination to also introduce a new controller paradigm, which could be amazing. And there’s the chance to witness in a public forum Valve grapple with the choices between making something sufficiently cheap, quiet, small and powerful, each factor jostling against the other. Oh, also, it might spur Sony and Microsoft to adjust the very nature of the console if Valve gets it right.

SteamMachines

So anyway, for Edge I wrote three immediate-reaction pieces to Valve’s fun three announcements last week.

Steam in the living room could never be about closing the box and joining Sony, Microsoft, Apple and everyone else fighting over that bitterly contested space. It’d be a mistake for Valve to attempt to compete directly with such big players, especially with PS4 and Xbox One having regained the traditional console lustre that was looking so dulled when the Steam Box was first mooted.
→ SteamOS and what’s next for Valve in the living room

It gives an insight into the many variables that need to be juggled for a computer designed for the living room, and the many values that consumers have for it. Should it be cheaper than an office computer? Does it need to be small so it fits under the TV? Should it be silent, too? How powerful is powerful enough? Valve is inviting a very public form of discussion of these attributes, a contrast to the very private deliberations that have been going on in Redmond and Sony’s studios for the past few years.
→ Steam Machines will be powerful, upgradable and open – the potential is remarkable

The Steam Controller is arguably the most important part of the Steam in the living room concept, because it deals with interface; the thing you touch. It’s also the bit that Valve has never done before. Steam and Big Picture prove it can do software and service, so that covers Steam OS. It can make partnerships to make computer hardware – that’s reasonably straightforward. But industrial design? That’s new. And difficult. Especially when you’re trying to invent a whole new way of interacting with games on a TV.
→ Valve’s Steam Controller has the potential to change games in the living room

Also can I just say I (almost) called the three announcements right. Wrong order, and I expected to at least see the hardware, but friends grumbled at me because I didn’t think Half-Life 3 was coming. Yeeeah.

Finding beauty in GTAV through selfies

October 1st, 2013

GTAV-selfies

I wrote about finding the beauty in GTAV through its details, cos the details are what I’ve always loved GTA for. And then I took selfie photos of them, just because it seemed fitting.

I wish I could’ve invested about an extra week of time into finding these details, but I kept getting into scrapes while I explored. There’s so much more to find – and love – in the margins of this incredible game.

The thing is, this stuff is often so well realised that it tends to get completely overlooked, while GTA’s big, bad, lurid side gets all the attention. But if you care to look it’s far more important. For me, it’s in how GTAV’s cars have slightly differently coloured headlights, the way you can light petrol trails with the backfire flames from your exhaust, and how each of the three protagonists have different smartphones (it’s so delicious that Trevor should have what looks like a Windows Phone).

Read in full at Edge

Still Playing: Crusader Kings II

September 16th, 2013

A while back I built on a post I wrote here about Crusader Kings II for Edge. It’s a game I can never seem to find enough time to play, but it certainly deserves it.

Crusader Kings II isn’t a standard PC strategy game. Sure, it’s played from a map view and there are tables of stats to lose yourself in, there’s gold, Piety and Prestige to be collected, and tech upgrades to build. But actually, what you’re playing is The Godfather: The Game. It’s Dallas. It’s Game Of Thrones (there is, to prove the point, a Crusader Kings II mod that models the entirety of the Western Kingdoms). It’s human drama generated from the game’s tangle of family trees, geography of alliances and individuals’ traits and attributes.

Read in full at Edge

The Knightmare of 90s revivalism

September 13th, 2013

In full grump mode, for Edge I moaned about the current focus on reviving 1990s games and properties. Obviously it got the usual accusations of being joyless, but c’mon. Do we really want to be playing Superfrog HD?

…the 90s revivalism of which Knightmare is part is everywhere today. There’s The Bitmap Brothers’ evidently meticulous upcoming remake of The Chaos Engine. There’s Wayforward’s evidently meticulous upcoming remake of DuckTales. There’s the rising spectre of The Pickford Brothers’ Plok, too, which has just re-emerged as a webcomic that surely means it’s about to return full-formed as a brand old game. I admit I’d entirely forgotten the mid-90s SNES original. Team 17 released Superfrog HD on PSN yesterday, another remake which seems to have proven that fondly remembered platformers rarely stand up in modern hands. The less said about Dizzy the better (and not just because it was an 80s game).

Read in full at Edge