Game Review: Airplane Mode

Nonsense games (as I like to call them) have become rather popular over recent years. Titles like Goat Simulator, I Am Bread and Octodad: Dadliest Catch, et al. Those games that are really stupid and often offer completely pointless and irrelevant style gameplay. Games that put you in the shoes of weird and wonderful protagonists… or a slice of bread, and allow you to just play around with the game’s world and physics. While nonsense games have become en vogue recently, they’re not exactly new. Back in 1993 there was Monty Python’s Complete Waste of Time game, and it was exactly what the title suggested. I think perhaps one of the more infamous nonsense games came from the unreleased, Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD. While the game was never officially released, it has been leaked onto the interwebs. Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was a collection of pointless mini-games, the most (in)famous one being Desert Bus. In it, you have to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, around a 415 mile trip… and you have to do it all in real time too. The bus can’t go any faster than 45mph and the in-game journey takes around eight hours of non-stop ‘play’ to complete. There’s no racing, no interactions, no traffic. Just you, an open desert road and a bus.

Well, developer Hosni Auji has thrown his pilot’s hat into the ring to try and make a nonsense, long haul travel game for a new generation, Airplane Mode. In the game, you are a passenger on a flight in economy class… and that’s about it really.

The Game

Your flight is from New York to Reykjavik, which takes around six hours, real-time remember. But if you don’t fancy that, then you can opt for a shorter New York to Nova Scotia, a two hour trip… and yes, I’ve spent the last few hours as a virtual airplane passenger just to to this review. I went for the latter, shorter flight, but I did stick it through till the end.

So, the game doesn’t bore you with having to wait around in the departure lounge, nor do you have to board, find your seat and store your luggage. Airplane Mode starts with you already in your seat… but you do have to go through all the pre-flight safety, taxi to the runway, etc. You even have to endure the pilot’s chit-chat they always do. Being stuck in an airplane seat in economy class offers you a few options. There’s the screen in the back of the seat in front of you. Just like real life, you can use it to watch movies, play games, check on flight info. You can even order your in-flight meal… oh yeah, you get fed on your flight.

FOOD

Aside from the screen, there’s the pocket on the back of the seat that houses the safety card you always get on flights. The magazine that has articles to read, endless ads for perfume, etc. And it’s all recreated in the game too, yes you can casually flick through the magazine and discover all sorts. There are even puzzles you can enjoy crosswords, sudoku and more.

I must admit, I couldn’t work out how to actually fill in said puzzles as you can’t use the keyboard to type in. So I just put the magazine back, a bit dismayed that I couldn’t actually interact with the puzzles. See, the game doesn’t tell you how to do anything, you just have to move the pointer around and click, see what works. That’s when I discovered my carry on luggage under the seat. My bag was then placed on the seat next to me and I could open it… and there it was, a pen I could pick up and use. Honestly, I felt like I had just discovered the Ark of the Covenant. I quickly picked the flight magazine back up and found not only could I now write with the pen to do the puzzles, I could write, draw and scribble freely.

Putting the magazine and pen back, I explored my bag some more. A novel, an actual novel I could read in game. Against the Grain (À rebours) by J K Huysmans, it’s a real book too that you can buy in real life. There was a USB cable, no idea what it was for, but I plugged it on to the USB slot in the chair regardless, shortly after, I discovered that you have a mobile phone. Yes, you can charge your in-game phone, it has a battery life and everything. So I left my phone charging while I turned my attention back to my bag.  A pair of Bluetooth headphones that you can use with the previously mentioned screen to hear what’s being played. Oh, and there’s also a blank note book that you can use to write and draw with the pen,  anything you like too…

DICK

Now I had my headphones working, I played around with the screen some more. There are three (public domain) films you can watch and even a Buggs Bunny cartoon. I kept exploring, but that was when the flight attendant came over and told me to do my seatbelt.

I began exploring my cramped space and found you can interact with the light and air-con above the seat. Close the blind in the window, pull down the tray, recline the seat. There’s even a sick bag and yes, it is useable too. The PA system interrupted my enjoyment of the Bugs Bunny cartoon as the captain spoke to detail me in on the flight, then after the safety video, we were off into the sky. Honestly, I was really quite impressed with how much detail and interaction there is… for a game where you sit in a seat of an airplane.

When we were firmly up and away, I noticed a little toilet symbol further down the aisle of the plane and I clicked on it. Yup, you can go to the toilet in the game and there’s even more interactions. Turn on the taps, get some soap, use paper towels, lift the toilet seat, flush the toilet. Even the baby changing table can be played with. After which pointless playing around, I returned back to my seat. There was a baby crying in the background, a few minutes later and we hit some turbulence. All of theses in-flight events are random too. You can even sometimes get a faulty screen that refuses to work properly.

PA

Anyway, after the flight attendant dished out the snacks and beer, which I got to choose, it was soon time to land. That’s when I decided to play around with my in-game phone and found even more stuff. Music, a camera option so you can take and even view pics, podcasts. You can listen to podcasts via your phone. I mean, I have told an abridged version of events here, but that two hour flight (no pun) flew by as I was too busy enjoying myself, playing around with all the little things the game allows you to. I’m still not sure that I found everything.

Overall

You know what? I actually really enjoyed this. Just remove the concept of you being stuck on a long haul flight and you have a fun little toybox to play around with here. Crosswords, sudoku, real films, in-flight magazine to read, a book, music to listen to and more. There are a few things that let the experience down. More puzzles in the magazine would be great. It seems to be the same puzzles in the magazine every time you play. I did restart the flight several times to check, even launched the longer six hour flight too. Every time I did, I got the exact same magazine with the exact same puzzles. So it would be nice to see some variation in the puzzles that are there and even add more variety of puzzles too. How about some spot the differences, word-searches, etc?

BOOK

Maybe some more (public domain) books? There’s loads of great, classic short stories and novels out there that are free to read which could be included in the game with ease and at no cost. More PD movies would be great. If they got that Bugs Bunny cartoon as PD, then there are plenty more that could be included. How about different classes? Being stuck in economy is something many of us are used to. So why not let us experience business class or even first class flights?

In all honesty, I really enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. If they add more features in future updates (see my suggestions), Airplane Mode could really get very interesting. In all honesty, it really is just a façade for being able to enjoy public domain works or draw cocks in a notebook, there’s nothing wrong with that either. I had a load of fun playing around with what the game offered, it just needs a bit more meat on the bones to add to it’s value. But what is here is surprisingly fun. I mean, just how many games can you think of where you can watch Bugs Bunny cartoons while drawing a picture of some huge (if somewhat angular) boobies?

BUGS

Game Review: 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin

I grew up watching seventies chop-socky flicks. Those distinctly cheesy, bad effects, badly dubbed, masters with long beards teaching students type of kung-fu films. Before Bruce Lee came along and revolutionised Hong Kong cinema, proving that kung-fu films could be so much more and even break down boundaries with Enter the Dragon, there was this unique brand of martial arts films that captured my heart from a young age.

SHAOLINS ROAD

Over the years, there have been a few games that have tried to emulate seventies kung-fu flicks. Titles like Shao-lin’s Road, Kung-Fu Master or more recently Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao, among others, have all tried to bring some of that Hong Kong, chop-socky love to gaming. From developer Sobaka Studio comes a new game hoping to capture some of that stylised kung-fu cinema magic with 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin. But is it Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury amazing or Jackie Chan’s New Fist of Fury atrocious?

The Plot

Set during the Chinese Year of the Water Monkey in 1572. You play as Wei Cheng, who’s parents were killed by Wokou (Chinese pirates) when Wei was a child. Taken in by his grandfather, Wei learns all about the family fishing business… as well as how to fight with a staff. Now a grown man, Wei’s village is attacked by bandits, his grandfather is killed and Wei is left for dead. Buddhist monks find Wei and nurse him back to health. This is when Wei learns those bandits were actually deadly Wokou. With the help of the monks, Wei sets out for revenge.

The Game

At heart, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is very basic scrolling beat ’em up fare. If you’ve ever played Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Battletoads (just not the new one) or similar, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Move around the levels and smack the crap out of bad guys with various attacks. Even though 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin does have that basic style gameplay, there’s a lot more going on beneath which adds so many more layers to the gameplay.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION

You have your standard quick-light attack, a slower-heavy attack, a thrust raged attack and a dodge move. Then there’s a deflect/parry move which is used for defence, stringing together moves by mixing things up will build your combo score, bigger combos give you more points. Finish levels to earn reward points and use those points to spend on upgrades and for your moves. You can swap your standard staff weapon for something else, with different weapons having different modifiers and abilities. Special equip-able items and footwear, numerous variables that allow you to create a character they meets your own playstyle. These weapons and items are earned just by finishing the various levels ion the story.

There there are the additional attacks by holding down the left or right trigger buttons and pressing one of the three standard attacks. You’ll soon be learning acrobatic moves and magical attacks that will cause enemies to float, slow down and even pull enemies toward you, all of which can be upgraded. The story is split into five different chapters, each representing a clan of the Wokou that attacked your village. With each chapter featuring multiple levels and a boss fight. The levels themselves can be really creative and often offer something unique along the way, fight in a sawmill and you’ll find saw blades that need to be dodged, storms can bring lighting strikes that can hit you and the enemies, levels in long grass will slow you down and make enemies harder to see. Honestly, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin really does offer a lot of little nuances that add layers to not just the levels but also the fighting itself.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION 2

Different enemies have their own strengths and weaknesses, meaning you’ll need to experiment with your variety of attacks to discover the best way to deal with each enemy type. And if that’s not enough for you, the game still offers more. There’s co-op action so you and a friend can play though the entire story together. Either online or even some old school, couch co-op. There are little statues hidden on the levels which unlock amusing gameplay mods. Remember GoldenEye 007 on the N64 with it’s big head, paintball mode, etc? Well you have some of those style unlockables here too. Give your character a big body, the emeries big heads and so on, just to add a little comedic slant to your game.

I did manage to finish the game in one sitting, in around four hours or so. It’s not a huge title at all. There are twenty-five levels, which does sound like a lot, but each level can be finished in just a few minutes. Still, you don’t really want a title like this to needlessly drag on anyway. 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and neither did it feel too short. Besides, even though I finished it, I am going back to find all of those secrets and even try to finish it on the hardest difficulty. I really enjoyed this slice of retro beat ’em up action.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION 3

Overall

The only thing negative I really have is that the game never really goes full seventies kung-fu flick style, aesthetically speaking. I’d loved for it to have had a Chinese language with English subtitles to add a layer of authenticity. Maybe some seventies style film grain (could be one of the hidden extras, I’ve not yet found them all). A funky seventies soundtrack. But those really are just very minor niggles. 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is fantastic and as an old school beat ’em up fan, this really scratched an itch.

Review: Ride 4

I do have a bit of a soft spot for racing games, grew up playing them and still very much enjoy the genre today. However, there’s one motorsport discipline that I’ve never really gotten into from a gaming perspective, motorbikes. I think the last time I played a bike racer was Super Hang-On in the arcade, back in 1987… maybe the original Road Rash.

Anyway, I’ve just never been attracted to motorbike racing in the same way I am with cars. I know nothing about the sport, nor do I have any interest in learning about it either.  So in that regard, I’m probably the last person that should review a motorbike racing sim… so here’s my review of motorbike racing sim, Ride 4.

RIDE 4 ACTION

If you have ever played any kind of racing game recently, then you’ll find things are pretty standard here in terms of game modes. Single races, where you can take any of the bikes out for a ride on any of the tracks in the game. There are 176 different bikes from 17 different manufactures. Brands like BMW, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, Triumph and more all offer various machines to ride on. Then there are the tracks, split over three continents, America, Europe and Asia. All three offer multiple real-life race tracks. Laguna Seca, Imola, Brands Hatch, Suzuka to name a few, thirty tracks in all to enjoy. So just pick a bike, pick a track and away you go for some single race action.

Then there are the endurance races. Pick a race length from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Choose your a bike, though you have to use a specially modified endurance bike. Select a track, tinker with the weather and time of day, time compression. Hit the track for a very lengthy race. There is also the basic time trial mode where it’s just you, your bike and the track. No opponents and no racing other than against the clock, a great way to learn the numerous circuits. There is also a career mode, which I will cover soon. But aside from the multiplayer mode (which I couldn’t really test with the game not being out as I write this), that’s about it for you racing options. Ride 4 offers pretty much what any other racing game offers, it neither excels nor falls behind in this regard, it’s all pretty much standard racing fare.

RIDE 4 ACTION 2

There are some nice features to play around with, a photo mode that is accessible from the pause menu, so you can take some snaps of your bike racing action. Of course you can tinker and tune your bike, buy new engines, transmissions and so on. You can even customise your rider, name, gender, info, riding styles and more. Then there is the editor where you can create your very own helmet and riding suit designs, you can even design your own unique liveries for the bikes. Ever played Forza Motorsport and its creation system? Same thing here. When it comes to the customisation, there really is a lot to get your head around with Ride 4.

In terms of looks, Ride 4 is a cracking looking game too. I know several of the tracks very well and they all looked fantastic. Tearing around Monza, Donnington Park, Interlagos and they felt like the tracks I knew. I’m not a bike person, yet the machines all seemed great too, I can’t say if they are authentic or not, but they are nicely detailed and looked like bikes… so that’s good. I did a race in the rain, which for me is the true test of how a racing game should look. Ride 4 looked stunning, reflections on the track, rain kicking up and hitting the screen, puddles formed on the circuit… it looked and felt like a wet race, ticked all the boxes for me. So far, so good. Until…

RIDE 4 ACTION 3

So that career mode I previously mentioned. Every good racer needs a career mode and I wish I could tell you how good this one is… but I couldn’t actually play it. From what I saw, it looked quite extensive. Split into three leagues, there’s the regional leagues (European, Asian and American), a world league and then the final leagues (superbikes and endurance). But before you can take part in those, you need to earn your licence by doing several tests. A time attack, lap on a test track, ride through gates, etc. Could I pass these tests? No. Oh I tried, I tried dozens and dozens and dozens of times. The tests are just too damn strict, from extremely tight times to beat to the test being a fail if you so much as put a millimetre of your bike off track (seriously, a millimetre). I did manage to do three of the tests after many, many, many attempts and a lot of time spent, but they got so frustrating that I just gave up in the end. I could not even get into the career mode to tell you what it’s like. I had to switch on all of the driving assists, and I’ve never done that with any racing game before. Yet, even with all the help the game offers… I could not do those damn tests to play career mode. I’ve had the game for over a week for review and I could not review the main part of the game.

I couldn’t work out if it was me or the game being really unfair and unforgiving. As I said at the start, I’m not a bike person… but I can play racing games… I think. I’ve never had this issue with any other game like this. I can race okay in the other modes, I can put up fight and even secure a podium or three in single races. On tracks that I know well, I could put in some decent times in time trial mode. It took a while to get used to riding the bikes in the game, they feel really heavy and you have to think about turning into and out of the corners about three turns in advance, but I got used to it. Yes, it is very different to racing a car around a track, I get that. I know I would never be able to ride a bike like this in real-life around a real track, but then again, I doubt I would ever be able to drive a Ferrari F40 around Monza in real-life on a real track… but I can do just that well enough in a driving sim. I just can not pass the tests to play career mode… even with the driving assists on. I became convinced the problem was the game.

RIDE 4 ACTION 4

But is it really the game that is the problem and not me the player? I’ll happily admit (and I already have, several times) that I’m not a bike person at all, so there is a very good chance the issues I have with the game are not really with the game, as I just don’t understand bikes. So, I did a little research into the previous Ride games. As of writing, the original Ride holds a metascore of 54 on Metacritic. Ride 2 holds a 66 score and Ride 3 has itself a slightly better score of 76. They’re not exactly great scores are they? Very average to above average at best. Getting better with each new game yes, but still not great scores. Quick side-note, all of those scores on the Xbox as I’ve been playing the Xbox version of Ride 4. So as a franchise, Ride isn’t exactly setting the racing gaming world alight is it? Perhaps it is the game that is at fault and not so much me, or at the very least, there’s a bit of both there? But again, I got on okay with the single races, etc. It’s just those damn tests for career mode, they’re too ‘effin strict and the game is just not accessible for newbies to bike games like me.

Plus, seeing as I was having such a disappointing time with Ride 4, I thought that may be my driving skills had dulled. So I loaded up both Forza Motorsport 7 and F1 2020 just to re-test my skills. I was tearing around tracks, racing, fighting for positions and really bloody enjoying myself too (without all the assists on too). It has to be the game, I may not be a bike person… but I know a good racing game from a distinctly average one and average is what Ride 4 really is.

I really wanted to enjoy Ride 4, I honestly did, but it’s just rubbed me up the wrong way. As someone who plays racing games regularly and a person who considers himself pretty good at the racing genre, I just found it too punishing for what it is and a very stubborn game to truly get into. Ride 4 is just very, very meh for what I did get to play.

The Next Generation Of Gaming, The Death Of Gaming Generations

Things are warming up as the inevitable release of the new consoles fast approach. As of writing, Sony are being very quiet about their new PlayStation 5, we’ve seen its design, but no price or release date yet… yet. However, Microsoft have been a much more forthcoming about their new Xbox Series X console. We’ve seen the machine and its little brother the Series S, we also have a price for both and a confirmed release date too of the 10th of November.

Still, come early-ish November, the next generation of consoles gaming will be here.  Just a few more months and your shiny new console of choice (assuming Sony have a similar release date to Microsoft) will be under your TV… but does it really matter anymore?

See, I’ve started writing an article looking back on my gaming history through the computers and consoles I’ve played/owned over the many, many years I’ve been gaming. As I’ve been writing said article and looking back on the machines I’ve grown up with, exploring how and why each gaming generation felt like a leap forward, I’ve come to realise that this new generation seems to be less of a leap forward and more of a baby step. I’m just not seeing the point of buying a new games console anymore. I mean, I will buy one, but there’s no real point.

I guess my first subject has to be graphics. I started out with an Atari 2600, famed being the Granddaddy of home gaming. Not the first ever home console no, but certainly the one that popularised video games at home. The 2600 was also known for its very simple graphics. I mean, here is classic arcade beat ’em up, Double Dragon on the system. 

DOUBLE DRAGON 2600

Basic and certainty very primitive, a far cry from its arcade source. But that’s the kind of graphics the Atari 2600 was capable of, and for that system, that is pretty damn good too. Anyway, after the 2600, I had a Commodore 64 and this is what the same game looked like on that system.

DOUBLE DRAGON C64

No, it’s still not arcade perfect… but it looked a damn sight better then the 2600 version. There’s more colour, the graphics are not as blocky, they are better defined… the sprites actually look like humans. It was very clear to me that there had been a major advancement, visually speaking. Now look at games today. Here’s a comparison image of a game (Gears of War 5) on the original Xbox One, the upgraded One X and the new Series X.

XBOX COMPARISON

What’s the difference? Just quickly go back and look at the two Double Dragon images above. Again, a very clear upgrade from one generation to the next, to the point where they don’t even look like the same game. And now, back to the Xbox comparison. Where’s the great advancement? Where’s the major visual upgrade? 

It’s not just Atari 2600 to Commodore 64 either. Look back through gaming history. Look the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit, from 16-bit to 32-bit. Look at the advancements when games went from 2D sprites to 3D polygons. Look even more recently when we went from SD games to HD. There was a clear and defined visual difference between game graphics. But now? As I said, what’s the difference?

Yeah, you might spot some very minor improvements with a 4K screen or even an 8K screen, if you are lucky to own one, which to be honest, most people don’t. But for myself, I only upgraded to a 4K TV a couple of years ago and to be honest, the difference going from my 1080p TV to a 4K one wasn’t exactly a major leap.

But this is my point, graphics are not ‘improving’ like they used to. Then even if you do want to get the best of of your console, you need to fork out on a better TV. We didn’t do that in the old days, the graphics improved because the hardware you were playing on improved. From a visual point of view, why buy an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5 when they are just offering the same level of graphics? Have game graphics plateaued and the only improvements we will see will be due to your TV? Yeah I know we will have better frame-rates, etc with the next gen and that is a good thing. But still, from a visual perspective and just looking at the graphics, why bother with the next gen?

Then there are the games themselves. Currently, there’s a bit of a trend for developers/publishers to offer a ‘free’ upgrade of the game you buy now for the next gen consoles. Graphics aside (which I’ve covered is pretty much nothing), what upgrade? The previously mentioned better frame-rates, possible quicker load times… and that’s about it for your ‘upgrade’. But my point is, if the game runs on the current gen perfectly fine and the differences between two are negligible to the point of hardly noticeable. Why not just stick with the current gen? It’s the same game right? Is a slightly smoother frame-rate a good enough reason to buy a new console?

I used to look at a new console and think it the games looked so much better. But now, unless you have a 70 inch, 8K TV and a magnifying glass, you really don’t see a difference.

It’s not just the graphics though. Going back to the Atari 2600, the music and sound was minimal, bleeps and bloops. Then we had the rise of game music composers such as Rob Hubbard (to name just one) in the 8-bit era and game music began to evolve. Through the generations, game music and sound has grown. It was with the more common use of the CD format in the early nineties when music and sound reached it peak because they could quite literally offer CD quality sound. from a quality perspective, game music and sound has not evolved for decades. I’m not saying there are no great composers anymore, just that from an audible quality perspective, its never really increased since the CD format.

Yup, eventually, the current gen will be discontinued. Yes some games will only be made available for the next gen too. But right now, just a handful of months before the next gen launch… is it really worth jumping ship to the next gen? Besides, the only reason the older generation will be discontinued is because publishers/developers will stop making games for that older system. But they don’t have to, do they? The hardware is not advancing from generation to generation like is used to, so why not just keep making games for the older machines, therefore negating the need for a new generation. I could play Cyberpunk 2077 perfectly well on a current gen machine just as I could on a next gen machine. Maybe at a slightly reduced frame-rate, granted… but the gameplay is still identical.

CYBERPUNK

Backwards compatibility is a major draw for me. It means I don’t have to keep two or more consoles under the TV with all those annoying wires running wild. I can have just one console and play (some of) my ever increasing backlog of games. But I can do that anyway, without having buying a new console. As just covered, the early games coming out for the next gen are also currently playable on the current gen too. So I don’t need backward compatibility because the games play the same regardless. See, backward compatibility only needs to exist due to the older system becoming obsolete… but it doesn’t need to be if games are still released on the console.

To me, it just seems like gaming generations are dying, if not already dead. The advancements are just not there like they used to be. The differences between the Xbox One (X) and the new Series X or the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 are so minor that they may as well not exist. I honestly think the death of gaming generations has finally begun. Thinking forward, where do you go from here? What amazing improvements could the future Xboxes and PlayStations possibly offer from this point on?

Digital gaming is on the rise, internet connections are getting faster and faster. We’ve already seen what TV and movie streaming services have done to the home viewing market. I have a BluRay player… yet I’ve not used it for well over a year due to being able to stream my entertainment. We already have things like Google Stadia appearing, Microsoft have been pushing their Xbox game (XCloud) streaming hard recently. It won’t be long until game streaming becomes normal. Just like sitting down to watch Netflix without the need of a physical machine or media to play videos, I think gaming will go that way, very soon too. If the consoles themselves can’t offer huge advancements (and they can’t), then consoles will become obsolete and gaming generations will no longer exist, and let’s be honest, they hardly exist now.

 

Roger Dean’s Psygnosis Art

I recently read an article on artist Roger Dean, this article right here. A really good read it is too, if you’re interested to learn a bit about Roger. Though it only really lightly touches on his work, and only in the music business… well it is an article on a music site. Anyway, Roger is famed for working with prog-rock bands of the seventies. Bands like Yes, Osibisa and others had covers designed by Roger Dean, he even designed the logo for Virgin Records in 1972.

VIRGIN RECORDS LOGO

Typical Roger Dean, he has a unique style that lends itself perfectly to rock album covers. Chock full of floaty rocks, twisted trees, dragons, strange creatures and… well, prog-rock stuff. Roger’s work has influenced people for years, so much so that James Cameron outright stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s style for his movie Avatar (not the first time James Cameron has stolen ‘borrowed’ from someone else). The whole thing went to court and Roger inexplicably lost despite overwhelming evidence that James Cameron most definitely stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s art without giving him any credit.

Anyway, as I said, the article linked to above is a great read, but it only covers a small part of Roger’s amazing work. Criminally, it doesn’t even give a passing mention to his work on video games. Oh yeah, Roger did video games too. In fact, I was first introduced to his art because of one very specific developer/publisher and one of my all time favourite studios to ever produce a game.

PSYGNOSIS LOGO

Yup, Psygnosis and yes, that logo was Roger Dean’s work too. Psygnosis was born form the utter disaster of a game studio that was Imagine Software. I could delve into the history of both of those studios, I won’t because I wrote a book doing just that and more (buy my book!). If there was anything to sell a game back then, then it was its box-art, in fact back then, that’s all we pretty much had to go on. We didn’t have the internet to spread the word of a game, no streamers to showcase new titles. Yeah we had review magazines, but it was the box-art that grabbed you when you were browsing for games on the shop shelves. And no other box-art slapped you in the face for attention harder than Psygnosis games of the eighties and nineties.

But Roger’s first foray into gaming was not actually with Psygnosis, but for a title called The Black Onyx from 1984 from Bullet-Proof Software. It was one of the first ever Japanese RPGs and even paved the way for titles such as Final Fantasy. Roger didn’t design the original cover for The Black Onyx, but he did for the Famicom port which was subtlety renamed Super Black Onyx and what a cover it was too.

Black Onyx

That image there gives you the prefect introduction to Roger Dean’s style and Psygnosis fans should be able to see that beautiful imagery we all soon came to love. And that is exactly what this article is all about, me looking at some of my favourites of Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art and a quick look at the games themselves too.

Brataccas

BRATACCAS

Now this is a game with a lot of history (again, read my book, the link is up there ^^^), what started out as a doomed game at Imagine became the first ever Psygnosis game. The game itself was terrible, stiff and horrible controls in an action/adventure type thing that never really worked. Brataccas wasn’t a great game, but that art was stunning and that art is why the game is still so fresh in my mind. I have no idea what is going on there and the title is pretty hard to read, but that certainly is a striking image.

Barbarian

BARBARIAN

I always remember the intro to this game and the hulking, titular Barbarian cutting a chain with his sword… had nothing to do with the game itself, but it looked great at the time. As a game, this was typical early Psygnosis, it looked great but played terribly. A kind of action/platformer that relied heavily on trial and error gameplay. Plus it had a really obnoxious control scheme where you had to use the mouse to select an action from a menu at the bottom of the screen. This was actually the first Psygnosis game I ever played, hated it but it still has a special place in my gaming heart. Still, that box was pretty to look at. The almost muted and wonderful backdrop with that bright red dragon-thing in the foreground really stands out. Shame about the guy ruining a perfectly fine piece of art at the top.

Terrorpods

TERRORPODS

So this title was a strange one. A kind of FPS/resource management/defence game thing. Look, I have no idea how to explain this title. I remember my older bother would play it and I’d just watch, confused as to what the hell was going on. I did play the game properly for the first time when I was researching my book. As an adult, I really enjoyed it. It took a lot of interwebs searching for how to play the damn thing, but when I got to grips with how to play it, I very much enjoyed it. But that cover art, I don’t mind admitting that I was scared of that cover as a kid. Scared, but I still loved to look at it. It has a very Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds feel about it. Anyone who has seen the art of that masterpiece of an album will know what I mean. I think this is my favourite Roger Dean/Psygnosis collaboration.

Obliterator

OBLITERATOR

Pretty much the exact same game as the previously mentioned Barbarian… only in space! It also suffered from the same trial and error gameplay, same obnoxious control scheme too. It was a very pretty game at the time, but it wasn’t much fun to actually play. This art really puts me in mind of H.R. Giger with a very Alien-like thing going on. Yet it still has that Roger Dean trademark, prog-rock style that I adore so much.

Shadow of the Beast
Shadow of the Beast II

SHADOW OF THE BEAST

SHADOW OF THE BEAST II

Yes, a double Dean display here for Shadow of the Beast and it’s sequel. The first game was one of those showstoppers for the Amiga. It really was a stunning looking game with its moody graphics and parallax scrolling. Play-wise? It was scrolling beat ’em up/platform thing with pretty lax controls and a steep difficulty curve. The sequel was a lot better and features, perhaps my favourite game over screen on any Amiga game ever. But that art is just so… well it’s so Roger Dean. I have no idea what is going on in either cover, nor do I care either. I just know it looks amazing and I like it. Now, there was a Shadow of the Beast III but Roger didn’t do the art for that, and it really shows.

And that’s about it for Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art. He did do a couple of other things like the logo for the game Agony, but not the box-art itself. Well, there was one more box to look at I guess and one with a very interesting connection.

Fatal Rewind

FATAL REWIND

Originally released as The Killing Game Show on the Amiga, where it featured a rather bland and unimaginative cover featuring an eye. The game was a platform/shooter with a unique feature where you could rewind time if you died. But when it was ported to the Mega Drive, it was given a much better cover (ruined by the logo obscuring a good chunk of the art) and a cover from Roger Dean that has that War of the Worlds feel again… and there’s a very good reason why. If you look closely at the machine on that cover up there, pay attention to the head in particular. That is the same design as the one on the box-art of Terrorpods

DEAN COMBO

Same elongated nose on the machine, same shaped visor, same weed things growing out. Its the same machine but seen from a different angle and in a different colour. Yeah they are the same because they were drawn by the same man, Roger Dean. However, there’s also a good reason why they look and feel so War of the Worlds. Remember how I said the Terrorpods cover reminded me of the Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds album? Well, Roger actually pitched to design the art for that album (hence the birds flying around the machine’s head in Terrorpods) but was passed over for Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim, who ended up doing the art and illustrations of the album. So Roger just used his War of the Worlds art for the covers of those two games instead.

And just to finish up, here are a few of Roger Dean’s pitches for War of the Worlds that never ultimately made the cut.

ROGER DEAN WOTW ART 2ROGER DEAN WOTW ART 3ROGER DEAN WOTW ART

It’s a shame Roger never got to be the artist for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. As much as I do like the art that was used, I think Roger Dean’s is so much better and would’ve loved to see his finalised designs. Still, we do have some amazing Psygnosis box-art to look at. I also recommend that you check out Roger’s official site, it’s full of beautiful art well worth a view or several.