Category: Non-Football



Last month I was lucky enough to be given a press pass by the lovely people at Now Then Magazine to cover Sheffield’s Outlines Festival.

I went along to the iconic Leadmill to see two great bands, Slow Club and The Crookes. You can read my Slow Club review in issue #109 of Now Then, out now across the city, or catch both online here.

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“They say that you have your whole life to write your first record and nine months to write your second – it’s true!” Foster the People frontman Mark Foster knows better than most, having been tasked with following up the band’s wildly successful 2011 debut album Torches, which earned praise from industry figures from Elton John to U2.

Foster the People’s second album, Supermodel, was released in March last year and it has divided expectant fans and critics alike. The band (also comprising drummer Mark Pontius and bassist Cubbie Fink) have clearly gone down a different route with this record; indeed, Foster says, “One of the things that was important to us was making a record that, I guess, was more organic – Torches was pretty synthetic.” The debut album’s array of solid, well-polished electronic tracks drew acclaim, with “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Houdini” perhaps justifiably grabbing the spotlight.

That album eventually went platinum in Australia and Canada, and gold in four countries including the US. Fittingly, Supermodel has an equally international flavour, having been produced on three continents. Much of the writing and what Foster calls the record’s “aesthetic intensity” was conceived in Morocco; the bulk of the album was recorded in Los Angeles, and finishing touches to the vocals were added in London.

Supermodel's album cover reprises the dreamlike creations seen on Torches' design

Supermodel’s album cover reprises the dreamlike creations seen on Torches’ design

However, this time around the feel of the record is somewhat different, as its first single, “Coming of Age”, would lead you to believe. Many of the tracks on Supermodel resulted from the band “getting lost in rabbit trails and experimenting”. And experimental is exactly how some of the songs feel, none more so than the 30-second, lyric-less “The Angelic Welcome of Mr Jones” or the millennial, new-age “Pseudologia Fantastica”.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that the pretentious “The Angelic Welcome” is followed by arguably the album’s catchiest and most radio-friendly effort, “Best Friend”. Tucked in the middle of the track list, this seems to be Supermodel’s most upbeat moment, a reprieve from the darkly inviting lyrics found elsewhere (“We’ve been crying for a leader to speak like the old prophets/The blood of the forgotten wasn’t spilled without a purpose – or was it?” in the excellently-titled “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon”, for example).

It’s easy to see this album as an evolution from Torches when Foster’s songwriting is at his aloof, apocalyptic, quasi-political best. If this feels more depressing than their debut – and it does – that appears to be accidental: “A lot of my melodies tend to be hopeful. I think there’s a melancholy there too, but always a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” he insisted in 2011.

But it’s that melancholy which makes this record worth listening to, makes it more than a lazy follow-up of the songwriting formula he stumbled upon while working as a “commercial jingle writer”. “Goats in Trees”, for instance, is as weird as the name suggests and as such unsuitable for radio – but it’s one of the best songs here for its smooth narrative and progression.

The album ends somewhat unusually, with the stripped-back “Fire Escape”, a love letter to Los Angeles, where Foster moved as a teenager to pursue his dream of a career in a music. For all the references to prophets and blood that precedes “Fire Escape”, its real-world grounding seems incongruous.

It does little to dispel the impression you get that Foster the People is essentially a one-man band, Foster himself putting everything together before calling his friends in to play the instruments he can’t, but this album suggests the band will be around for a while yet. As long as Foster isn’t bored of songwriting, to be precise.


Since being introduced to the series in 2004, Career Mode has become one of FIFA’s most popular and impressive features. The sheer variety of leagues, players and options provide never-ending entertainment for the series’ many fans, and Career Mode has stood the test of time to succeed where other features failed.

Although early FIFAs contained a smattering of selected leagues from which the user could play friendlies – including, oddly, the remote Malaysian Super League, which was present between FIFA 96 and ’99 – full seasons with any one club were unavailable, and promotions and relegations were non-existent with no more than one division for any given country.

Youth academies in the earliest form in FIFA 07

That all changed for the better in FIFA 2004, when EA introduced Career Mode. The new feature allowed players to take second-tier clubs into the English top-flight, while season-long stays with teams were also improved, even for leagues where promotion/relegation was still impossible.

Over the intervening eight editions, Career Mode has improved and grown to resemble an all-encompassing feature that can keep users engrossed for months. While early installments may not have held attention for more than weeks at a time, recent FIFAs have boasted Career Modes that offer almost endless possibilities.

A variety of leagues – 29 in FIFA 12 – enables users to assemble international squads, signing players from a range of countries as diverse as Denmark, Brazil, Australia and South Korea. Realistic transfer windows in the summer and January – in which other clubs also sign and sell players – keeps things interesting if your team has been eliminated from the national cups, and, league success permitting, qualification to the Champions League (named “Champions Cup” due to FIFA not owning the competition’s rights) or the Euro League are possible for top-flight clubs.

The game’s transfer market, in particular, has blossomed in recent years to allow users to pick from an assortment of free agents, take young players on loan, or browse potential signings who have been transfer-listed by other clubs. This, combined with FIFA 12’s budget allocation feature, allows players to shape squads to their own liking, and is particularly useful for those starting out with lower-league or impoverished clubs – simply by signing free agents and taking players on loan, promotion can often be achieved without spending a single penny on transfer fees.

The introduction of youth academies in FIFA 07 gave fans of the series the ability to scout and sign young talent. Able to pick which positions the scouted players specialise in – such as defence – allowed users to hand-pick the FIFA world’s most suitable youngsters and future stars. Although this feature was removed in subsequent editions, FIFA 12 saw youth academies return with increased scouting options and a bigger youth system capacity.

FIFA’s current, slick Career Mode interface

It has come a long way in the last eight years, but the beauty of Career Mode is that it still has plenty of room for improvement. The ability to upgrade coaches, physios and transfer negotiators – thereby improving the club in general – was present in FIFA 07 but has since been removed. This, along with a “stadium upgrade” feature would improve the series, should EA wish to do so.

Indeed, the company have confirmed a number of additions to Career Mode for FIFA 2013, including audio updates from other matches, an improved transfer system that allows for player-plus-cash offers and the new ability to change clubs mid-season – something that had been impossible in every previous FIFA game.

Perhaps most importantly, however, EA have revealed that FIFA 13 users will be able to simultaneously juggle jobs at club and international level – something lead producer David Rutter calls “the number one fan request”. Players will be able to manage a country through qualifying campaigns, and the size of the job offered depends on both the club you are managing and how successful you have been. Guide Manchester United to the league title and the England gig could be yours; drive Accrington Stanley to the League Two play-offs and Saudi Arabia may come calling.

Says Rutter: “We’ve been asked to put it in for years, but we’ve really been trying to address the fundamentals and make a really solid mode, before laying in other features on top. We feel we’ve done that now, so we’re ready to add internationals. The idea is that it’s a bit of a meta-game, going on alongside the main game. [International mode] has its own set of screens and its own commentary so it looks and feels very different, and obviously we’re supporting the whole gamut of international tournaments.”

Having watched Career Mode become one of FIFA’s most popular features, and a key factor in the game’s success compared to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, EA have predictably – but shamelessly – begun to charge users for the pleasure of using the long-running mode. Whereas previous editions saw virtual “coins” or “points” built up to unlock other leagues, stadiums or mini-features, FIFA 12 saw the introduction of the “Season Ticket”, which cashed in on the popularity of Career Mode and the Creation Centre. As the series has developed, so has the cost for FIFA fans; the price to pay has run parallel with with the increase in realism – virtual coins have been replaced by real ones.

However, with many other additions also in the pipeline, the future looks bright for FIFA’s best feature. The next decade of installments could see Career Mode become almost a game by itself – it is capable of entertaining fans for a year without all FIFA’s other add-ons. That in itself is fine testimony to a feature that has consistently excelled for the best part of a decade.

Images: FIFA 07 Youth Academy – http://guides.gamepressure.com; FIFA 12 Career Mode screenshot – http://www.jcdesignstudio.co.uk


With the latest installment in the FIFA Football videogame series due out in just two months, EA look to have their work cut out in satisfying fans’ demands. Despite series line producer David Rutter labelling FIFA 12 “a revolutionary year for FIFA…especially in the gameplay department”, this year has seen a huge increase in criticism coming EA’s way, with many customers unhappy with numerous aspects of FIFA 12.

As the dominant force in a market where FIFA only has to compete with the similarly-troubled Pro Evolution Soccer, EA have seemingly become complacent in improving the series with each annual installment. FIFAs 07-09 were almost identical in gameplay, and, eager to avoid criticism and a fall in sales, the company introduced a number of new features to FIFA 12, released last summer.

Unfortunately, these tweaks have not paid off, with the changes resulting in a game that thrills and exasperates in equal measure. Altering defensive controls and introducing the controversial “Impact Engine” has led to many glitches and flaws, with the latter addition occasionally causing players to fly half the length of the pitch from the most innocuous challenge, or levitate in the air for several seconds. It makes a mockery of the realism the feature was supposed to add, and hundreds of Youtube videos demonstrate a regular problem for players of the game.

An all too familiar image: a player clearly dominates but still loses the match

Similarly frustrating to many customers is the alleged presence of “scripting” in FIFA 12 matches. Such allegations have been present throughout the series’ recent history, and plagued FIFA 09 and 10 particularly, but the problem appeared to have been resolved somewhat until the release of FIFA 12 in September.

Essentially, supporters of the “scripted” argument believe FIFA either pre-determines match results, or influences them by ensuring sure-fire goals are missed, defensive mistakes are made, and debatable penalties are given.

While EA, somewhat rightly, argue this makes the game more interesting, it makes for infuriating games where a player can dominate proceedings only to lose 1-0 to the CPU or opponent’s only shot of the match.

All too often, games are decided by penalties that weren’t, questionable-at-best red cards, and ridiculous defending – including players standing stock-still off the ball, running into each other, falling over and inexplicably refusing to tackle the CPU. Having implemented the “chance algorithm” in a bid to make the game harder, EA appear to have failed to strike a balance – the game is now perceived by many to be unfair, rather than too easy.

As one player observed: “Rebounds always land to the computer’s head/feet wherever they are standing, do they land to you like that though? Nope, not in a million years.” Others feel certain matches are unwinnable, with even repeating the same game multiple times failing to produce the desired outcome: “I’ve just lost a game for the 4th time in a row against a team on 8 points halfway through the season 3-1, every game I have played in which I have lost they have advantaged the computer, 50-50s will drop to them, referees will assist them and they will generally be unplayable…it’s as if the game decides when they fancy letting you lose or not.

FIFA 12’s impact engine has led to ridiculous injuries

Although bugs are always likely to be present, however few, FIFA 12 contains more than its fair share of glitches and apparently resolvable issues. Players disappearing mid-match, referees blocking counter-attacks, slow loading times and ill-timed updates all contribute to a plethora of problems.

Dissatisfaction with the game has led to a rise in the number of YouTube channels such as “LetsFifa11”, which broadcasts weekly “Fails Only Get Better” episodes, regularly viewed by over 100,000. The bugs displayed in such videos include blatant handballs, players running through advertising hoardings and off the pitch, ridiculous goals, and, incredibly, supersized players who run painfully slowly but pull off passable, flailing impressions of the protagonist from impossible internet game QWOP.

In March 2012, BBC’s Watchdog programme reported problems with FIFA 12 Ultimate Team disconnections, which cost users real money and caused wins to be registered as defeats. Typically, EA shirked responsibility for a problem BBC experts laid at their door, with a company statement claiming users’ poor internet connections were to blame, and that “0.4% of Ultimate Team customers have been impacted” – a figure that seems implausibly low given that the same statement admitted that just one internet forum thread on the subject “solicited almost 3,000 responses from fans”.

Even with these problems, FIFA 12 remains a good game that, when it works properly, is fun to play and the best football simulation game available. It’s when it doesn’t all go to plan – fairly often, in most cases – that the game becomes tiresome and annoying. FIFA 12 could have been great, and this could have been the year that EA finally made a near-flawless game that significantly improved on the previous year’s edition. You can’t help feeling the company has missed a big chance to open up an unassailable lead on its competitors.

All of these issues mean FIFA 13 will have to be a huge improvement on previous installments if the series is to retain its large fanbase and sales figures. With one reviewer already admitting “FIFA 13 is likely to give its fan base some teething problems”, it’s not boding well for EA.

ImagesMatch Facts screen : http://www.ign.com; Lionel Messi Injury – http://www.meltybuzz.fr

 

Are there any problems that I’ve missed off? Leave a comment below!


Czech tennis player Lukas Rosol’s recent shock win over world no.2 seed Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon has completed a good month for the country’s sportsmen, with the Czech football team also reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.

26-year-old Rosol, barely known outside of his home country before Thursday’s victory, made headlines across Europe after upsetting the odds to defeat Spanish giant Nadal 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. His win has since been labelled “one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon and Grand Slam history” after defeating the 11-time Grand Slam winner.

Contrasting emotions after Rosol’s “miracle” win

Rosol had been ranked 100th in the world and was the clear underdog going into the match – the man himself admits that one of his main aims was simply to avoid losing in straight sets: “I don’t know what to say – I’m not just surprised but it’s like a miracle. I never expected something like this. There are so many emotions – I don’t know what to say. [Nadal] is a superstar and I’m very sorry for him. I played unbelievably today. I hope I can play another match like this. I’m very happy for my support. Before the match I was thinking to play three good sets so I don’t lose 3-0.”

The Brno-born right-hander’s reaction after winning said it all: it appeared that he realized this was likely to be the peak of a professional career that began in 2004. It was not only the best moment in Rosol’s career, but also one of the highlights in both Czech tennis and Wimbledon history.

Nadal – hardly a man used to losing – had previously reached the third round of every Grand Slam tournament since 2005, but showed admirable sportsmanship and maturity to graciously accept defeat and proceed to sign autographs when many players would have stormed off the court. Indeed, the Spaniard was able to put the loss into perspective, saying I’m very, very disappointed [but] it’s not a tragedy, it’s only a tennis match.”

Unfortunately, Rosol’s heroics ended in the next round, with a defeat to Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber (a former world no.22) in straight sets. Nevertheless, it has proved to be an unforgettable tournament for the man ranked as the Czech Republic’s third-best tennis player in April 2012.

The Czechs’ performance at Euro 2012 suggested a country going places

Earlier in June the Czech national football team had similarly impressed, albeit not quite on the same scale as Rosol, in successfully negotiating from a tricky Euro 2012 group that also included co-hosts Poland and a fancied Russian team. A 4-1 defeat to Russia, who boasted quality players such as Andriy Arshavin and Alan Dzagoev in their ranks, led to Michal Bilek’s men being written off by many pundits.

However, back-to-back victories over Greece and Poland propelled the Czechs to the top of Group A, booking a quarter-final clash with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. The heavy loss to Russia in their first group game meant that the Czech Republic became the first team to win a group with a negative goal difference.

As with Rosol’s third-round tie, the Czechs’ quarter-final proved to be one step too far, although it still took a late winner from Ronaldo to send Portugal to the quarter-finals. Losing 1-0 to a Portugal team ranked 17 places above them – that would only lose to Spain in the semi-finals on penalties – is nothing to be ashamed of.

The Czech Republic’s performances in these two sporting events,  in the Euros and Wimbledon the pinnacle of each’s 2012 calendar, means that the country’s 10.5 million population can be proud of a summer of success for Czech sportsmen.

Images: Rosol & Nadal – http://www.sportsworldreport.com; Czech Republic team at Euro 2012 – www.thesun.co.uk


Published in 2004, GTA San Andreas quickly became a huge favourite with fans of the Grand Theft Auto series. It has since been succeeded, firstly on the Playstation 2 by Liberty City Stories, and more recently on the Playstation 3 by GTA IV. With the superior graphics and many enhancements of these next-gen games, surely GTA San Andreas has been surpassed for quality and entertainment?

Actually, no. San Andreas was the first GTA I played and despite having played numerous other installments in the series, I still believe it has not yet been beaten by its younger brothers. The game boasted an expansive map – too big, in fact, to allow a PSP remake to be made – that spanned covers of three cities: Los Santos (L.A.), San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). 

Like most GTA games, the storyline was compelling, the characters fascinating and varied, and the game life huge. But what sets San Andreas apart is its ability to stand the test of time. So many other games, be it GTA or not, have little replay value or look and feel dreadful after the rich graphics and gameplay we have become accustomed to on the PS3 or Xbox. 

Playing it again now, the graphics are admittedly a poor relative of their fourth-gen cousins, but for content, quality, variety and entertainment, I believe San Andreas equals or even surpasses GTA 4. San Andreas has the ability to cater for both casual and hardcore gamer – it has masses of missions and sub-plots to complete for the serious players, but those simply seeking enjoyment can do as they wish, driving,walking, swimming, flying or cycling in a bigger variety of surroundings than GTA 4 can offer. 

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San Andreas' desert seemed to be never-ending

One of my favourite aspects of San Andreas was the inclusion of remote, tiny towns and settlements on the long roads connecting the three main cities. The area around Las Venturas contained numerous small villages with little going on and seemingly little purpose, but this is where the adventurous gamer thrived. For a long time after buying the game, I could drive through the countryside or desert and have no idea where I was going or where the roads ended up. That is a quality that GTA 4 seems to lack. 

Another inclusion that was overlooked in 2008 was the main character’s “homies”. San Andreas had Carl Johnson, the protagonist, surrounded by fellow Grove Street gang members. Furthermore, other areas of Los Santos were owned by rival gangs, who would shoot on sight at unwelcome visitors. This added an extra element of unpredictability as you never knew what to expect upon entering another gang’s territory. Admittedly, this element would have been harder to apply in the modern setting of New York for GTA 4, but a similar idea could have been implemented to make missions more interesting or add something else to do after completing the game.

Of course, GTA 4 has its advantages over San Andreas: hugely improved graphics and online play spring to mind. However, San Andreas had that pick-up-and-play feel that I don’t think has been replicated. The controls were simpler, the storyline more accessible and interesting, the missions more varied and the setting more engrossing. That is why GTA San Andreas is the best GTA yet and why GTA V, set only in Los Santos as opposed to all three cities – will also struggle to better this classic videogame.