Ten Years of Severed Head \../

(Quick bit of Background – I am the guitarist for Severed Head. When we started there were two guitarists, however, within a few years I ended up the sole guitarist. More pressure but more freedom. Plus with a keyboard player like Pete, especially with how amazingly well we work together and bounce off of each other, being the sole axe-wielder isn’t such a detriment to the band!)

Ten years ago, nearing the last days of College, I got asked a question. Pete, keyboard player who worked with many times at College and all around awesome guy, asked me to join a band. I happened to be the first person he bumped in to about it. I enjoyed working with him and so I said yes.

Ten years have passed and Pete and I are still in said band. Known in the early days as Pete and the Whiskey Samurai, and with an entirely different line-up, and now celebrating our tenth birthday figured it’s about time for a brief write-up of some of the ups and downs of the ten year history of Severed Head.

Over the years we’ve had some bad luck, both from personal reasons and as a band. We’ve had a string of drummers, bassists and singers. However, at the very core, Pete and I have remained constant. By the end of 2006 we had and lost three drummers (to my memory), two bassists and a singer. We’d been an instrumental group for a while simply due to lack of singists! Everything was going well, some of the songs we still play today were written during this period, and then one practice our drummer just didn’t turn up. He continued not turning up although nothing was ever said.

Pete and I were not especially happy about this –as you could imagine!- but we did manage to write one of our most aggressive and the most ‘Severed Head’ of our songs. Endless Night came in to existence and is still the epitome of what the band are about. It has the heaviness, the softer side, the crazy large solos and the energy and punch that makes us what we are.

And then Dene appeared. Probably the most important moment in the first five years of the band. We also got our second singer , Laura, who along with Dene left the band in 2009. Dene returned to us in 2012 after another two drummers and a bassist had come and gone. However, we also found ourselves a new singer and a bassist. Sammy and Nathan respectively.

We now have the most solid band we’ve ever had. Instrumentally we’ve all come a massively long way from the early days, compositionally we now have two Uni-Graduates who did composition as well as a ‘Master of Composition’ in Sammy, and the most awesome rhythm section we could ever have hoped for.

This Sunday we play our tenth anniversary concert and I most seriously cannot wait.

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LucasArts Memorial – Dark Like The Night

I greet you today from 1999. ’99 was a fairly mixed year on a personal level but it did have an incredibly important milestone in my life.

Our first household PC. A blue and grey box which, until a few months ago when I donated it to a school, has been in our house -still operational it should be added- and started my love of PCs. Before that we had an Amiga 1200, before that an Amiga 500+ and before that a ZX Spectrum.

That first PC though was important. It was a 450mhz Pentium 4 with 512mb of ram and a graphics chip (the ATi Rage Pro 128) on the Mobo. Oh, and it came with a 6.4gb Hard-drive that we never thought we’d fill up! By today’s standards that is atrocious but back then it was Awesome! I was introduced to proper 3d Gaming for the first time. Games like Dungeon Keeper, Transport Tycoon, Total Annihilation and Unreal Tournament gave me the cornerstones of the gamer I am today.

One game stood out, and even today still stands out to me.

Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. Before I go in to detail it should be mentioned this was not the first Lucas Arts game I had played. The Monkey Island games and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis had been games I’d played or watched be played several years previously. Jedi Knight though had something that I had never experienced.

In Dungeon Keeper you’re the bad guy. In Transport Tycoon you were a mogul. Total Annihilation you were  the Core or the Arm (Always the Arm!), in Unreal Tournament you were Red or Blue (Blue baby!) although you could customise your looks (Blood Reavers – Boris!) and in the older Lucas Click ‘n Points you were whoever on a fixed story path. However, in Jedi Knight you were Kyle Katarn. To me he was a grubbier Han Solo.

I already enjoyed Star Wars, earlier on in that very year I had a terrible bout of Flu and could hardly move so I watched the three (Episode I came out later that year) Star Wars movies on VHS. However, it was good but that was about it. This game changed my love for Star Wars, specifically the Extended Universe because it gave you choice. Not the illusion of choice, or skin deep choice but true choice.

You play through the first levels as a merc who is trying to find out who killed his father. The gun combat is surprisingly good and the game paces new guns almost perfectly as well as the changes in location with a lot of vertical movement and combat -No horizontal corridor shooting back then!- which mixes in live action blue-screen things to keep the story moving. These FMV’s (made famous by C&C) help you get to know the characters as well as give a strong story element. This is important once you get a lightsaber, around the 3rd location in the game, another important thing to note is that you can kill not just the ones trying to kill you but civilians! This was an interesting concept in an FPS as usually if it moved it needed to be killed with death. But no, there would be people just going around their businesses… You could make it your business to stop them however. All of this is of importance to how you can build your character.

When you have a lightsaber you need to be able to access the Force. Only the game lets you chose not just the light side, but the dark side too. You select your powers from a Universal pool, a Light Side and a Dark Side pool. This impacts how you play the game, but also how the story unfolds. The game lets you pick if you should kill certain bosses or be a good Jedi. Later in the game you find out the repercussions of your actions. This absolutely blew my mind. The first time I played it I went Light Side. Then I played the entire game again where I went utterly Dark Side. The story changed, the outcomes changed. How enemies behaved changed!

It was an absolute (excuse the pun) blast! This game is the single reason for my utter love for the franchise as well as for games that offer choice. Games like Mass Effect are my modern Jedi Knight fixes but nothing will ever be like that first time realising that I held the power of if someone lives or dies in the game which changed the entire outcome and direction of the game.

Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II is avaible on Steam right now for £3.49 or the collection of the Entire Saga (including the original Dark Forces that I’ve never played) is £14.99

I highly recommend playing them, the games are the very best thing that LucasArts ever developed and published that wasn’t Monkey Island.

Kyle’s Story, just like LucasArts, was cut down before its time. While I love Disney for a lot of things, this will take a long time to heal. I think it is time to finally buy and play the original Dark Forces.

May the Force be with you, LucasArts. Always.

Techno-Justice: The King Is Dead! Long Live The King!

Howdy!

So the Playstation 4… Come on, we all knew it was bound to be talked about, however while many people are laughing and slating and generally mocking the -what will almost certainly be a- black monolith I am not. I personally embrace our new insect Overlords!

I can almost hear the cries of “but, but, but you are no Console gamer! You are a man of taste and impeccable pecks* how can you not be filled with mocking jelly of mock?! IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD!!!!”. To this I reply, relax my friend. I shall explain. First though, let’s just quickly run through this whole “Next Gen” stuff and have a little word from Epic Games.

“Next-gen is here. It’s a high-end PC,” said Bleszinski.

Thanks Cliffy B for that perfect title for this little section! Shame he is no longer at Epic, he was always one of my favourites, anyway to business! When the Xbox 360 came out, it was quite a leap away from the PCs at the time. I was running one HELL of a PC back then and I couldn’t touch the Xbox at all… Now however my PC can run rings around it with ease. Now with the prices of things coming down and the sheer amount of Oomph you can get for your cash I would have expected the next generation of Consoles to be Super Powered boxes of PC-killing Doom.

Now all reports indicate that the PS4 will be the most powerful of the 3 (The Wii-U, Xbox One and PS4) so lets look at the specs and take them apart a little. Then for fun let’s compare what I am running now…

So the brains of the PS4 is an 8-core AMD CPU (now there is talk that the whole system will be an APU rather than a seperate CPU/GPU but let’s split it down just for easier discussion). That sounds impressive, it sounds big, it sounds… MEATY. Now let’s say they’re clocked at 1.6 ghz… Suddenly it goes found sounding like a whole cow to just an ear… Hmmmm.

If the brains are massive but underpowered how about the heart… The “highly enhanced PC GPU” under the hood? Again an AMD part… Now where AMD lack in CPU technology they certainly make it up in GPU tech. Now basically the card inside the PS4 is equivalent (already a bad sign) of a current HD7850… So we’re talking 1.84 Terraflops of graphical horsepower.

Backing it all up we have 8gb of GDDR5 memory. Not a lot can say about that apart from it is interesting that they seem to only be including GDDR5 memory and now any standard DDR3 stuff… I wasn’t aware that graphics memory could be substituted for normal memory but maybe I just know nothing!

The Dr. Is In.

So, my current system (Dr. Beasty Mk I.5) is a few years old, a little long in the teeth and 2 WHOLE generations out… However, can it out perform a PS4 when it is released? I am willing to bet a solid – Yes. Now soon I shall in fact be upgrading to Ivybridge (once I can afford the processor!) but let’s go with what I have right now.

CPU wise the PS4 is having this 8-core 1.6ghz under the hood. My poor ailing system has 4 physical and 4 logical cores. So totalling 8 (a draw!) but let’s be honest, hyper-threaded cores aren’y physical cores so how about we strip them out leaving me with just 4 cores… So I have lost, right? Not quite, lets add up raw Clocks now shall we. The PS4 -running flat out- has a total of 14.4ghz worth of power under that hood (that no-one has seen!). That is many numbers… So how about me with my 4 cores? At my standard clock speed (without turboboost or other technologies) I have a total of 12.24 ghz worth of power.

This certainly looks like a loss for the PC until you remember that this is running half the cores of the PS4 and ignoring the hyper-threads (which if they added say 750mhz to the overall numbers would stick me at 15.24 ghz), plus remember than AMD are not as efficient when it comes to CPU tech so an AMD processor clocked at the same as an Intel chip is around 10-20% slower. We’re also talking a CPU from 2009 vs one from 2013 plus lets add in the fact that what is running in the PS4 is a low-power Mobile chip rather than a full fat CPU!

Now the interesting part… GPU. This is the most important part of an console. If games look amazingly good then they’ll sell well, if they look poor then they won’t (Note: This only applies to the “hardcore” or “core” gamers, after all the Wii sold AMAZINGLY well and it looked like crap! They went for the approach of the Old School of making REALLY solid and fun games with Great GAMEPLAYrather than just ‘splosions and gore!) so it has got to have a LOT of grunt… So we have basically a HD7850 (with some upgrades admittedly) with 1.84 tflops of Oomph backed up by 8gb of GDDR5. Lets look at the memory first, shall we?

The memory numbers… Now -obviously- there is still a lot of speculation on these numbers so they might be WAY off but let’s go with what we mostly know. Approx 1-2gb of that ram if off the table for actually running systems so the console works right. You NEED a cache and suchlike after all so we’re down to 6gb of high bandwidth but as a consequence higher latency memory… How high bandwidth? Expected to be around the 176gb/s mark. However, DDR3 has a lower bandwidth but MUCH lower latency. So my system is running 6gb of said DDR3 memory, plus my graphics card is running 1gb of GDDR5. Again my card came out in 2009 vs a 2013 chip but I have a memory bandwidth of 153.6gb/s and that is from an old fashioned 256 bit memory bus!

Okay, so that is kinda a win for the PC but marginal as memory doesn’t play such a large part in things. Let’s look at the score card – Close call with the CPU but the PS4 won that. Memory… Meh, that is pretty much a draw. So it comes down to this… The very POINT of a console… Graphical power…

Here the PS4 wades in with its 1.84 tflops. See it looking all hard, especially as all three of the last gen consoles ADDED TOGETHER with by CPU and GPU power didn’t exceed 2 tflops, so it must be feeling pretty confident against a 4 year old GPU… Now see my ATi card step in to the ring… It’s Nolan-style Batmobile armour surrounding it, it towers over the punny little runt in the other corner and laughs Jabba style. That’s right, my 2009 card produces a MASSIVE 2.72 tflops of Oomph… 0.12 off being a WHOLE Teraflop more powerful… Now let me tell you, even *I* was amazed by this result…

But What Does This Mean?!

My 4 year old PC has done enough to beat what looks to be the most “powerful” of the “Next Gen”… And yet I am glad about the PS4, I am happy for its existence… Why? Let me tell you why.

For a start off, I love AMD. Their processors are terrible now, but my first home-brew system had a £700 AMD FX-57 at it’s heart and still today that processor can handle anything that is thrown at it (for example it is now acting as a mini server in a school!) so I still have that loyalty, and it broke my heart that I had to move to Intel for my latest system but if AMD cannot be competitive then I shall look elsewhere, but graphically when they bought ATi I was sad that ATi had been bought, but I was happy AMD bought them, and they have done Amazing things with them. Now my card is the LAST ATi card to ever exist, it says ATi on the PCB and on the heatsink and I will use it until it finally gives up the ghost, then I will buy an AMD card and I will be happy because they make amazing graphics chips. This move gives AMD MORE MONEY to spend on even more on graphics in the future.

For me though the single most important thing about the PS4 is this… The CPU is an x86 chip… That means that most games for the PS4 will run with very little tinkering for the PC, plus they will be written FOR MULTICORE from the start. You hear that Cities XL? You CAN use more than one friggin’ core! Now the new Xbox looks to ALSO run on an x86 chip and it’ll also be running DirectX which means it’ll be even Easier to take an Xbox game and have it just Run on a PC without those awful shoddy ports!

So much so that many developers are actually looking to be creating the Full Fat game on PCs then porting it to the consoles and dropping the quality meaning PC looks very much to be at the top of the pile again before the next gen comes out.

The Next-Gen is here, and it was here a WHOLE Four Years ago!

The King is Dead! Long Live The King!

* Not true… Not true AT ALL

Minecraft: Part Two – Oh, The Horror!!

Salutations my friends,

Sit around the campfire and hear my tale of woe and misfortune!

Today I’ve been thinking about survival horror games. There are plenty out there and I have realised why most of them don’t work as either survival and horror. They are missing two important element. The first element is surprise. The second is loss.

In most survival horror, or even just straight horror when you die (which you know is inevitable) you reload your save and you will then have the knowledge of what will be happening. That removes the surprise. Yes you have the immediate surprise of that very first time, but after that… It is gone. This ties in with loss. When you die, you reload. Anything you have you’ll still have. You lose nothing.

So here is the story that I have for you, while I was thinking about all of this I was playing Minecraft -I really am enjoying it again, so much I’ve picked up the Minecraft Documentary. Expect a review tomorrow!- and I had found an underground ravine. Anyone who has played Minecraft know how annoying these things can be. They are bad enough with open air above but underground they are a mass of ledges both above and below.

When confronted with something like his my tactic is to start at the top and work my way down so that there are plenty of torches to stop things spawning above me. Skellys can be a killer (literally) when above you. So there I am, at the top of this ravine… There is a very long way day and I am not great with heights but here I am, putting down torches as I go. I hear zombies below me and the rattling bones of a skeleton. But it is okay, I see nothing up here… Then suddenly, from an area I hadn’t even noticed, a creeper falls in front of me. In my utter panic I press the E key, which brings up my inventory… I hear the hiss and then BOOM, all while staring at my inventory… All of my stuff I have, the iron pickaxe, all of the materials I have found… This is where the sense of loss comes in.

You die in Minecraft and -unless you are in Hardcore mode- you respawn… However you respawn with nothing. Everything you had is left where you died. Now this is fine if you die right next to the spawn points so you can just pick up all of your items, some of which are hard to come by or create. So you have a lot to lose and not only is there that loss but the surprise because you don’t Know what will happen. Sometimes there will be a massive area and it has not a single enemy… Other times a very small cavern can be wall to wall with nastiness. You won’t know until you get there, this gives you the sense of surprise, plus the fact you can not only be killed by enemies but you can fall to your death, or mine in to lava or drown or even get crushed to death in sand or gravel!

Boom! I am flung off of the tiny ledge I was on… I fall… Expecting to hear the bone crunching splat of my cranium becoming best friends with the stone floor of the ravine. However, luck is on my side, I end up on the floor but slowly thanks to a wonderfully placed waterfall, only a small one but it just saved my life! I sit there and move back to my small base I’ve set up so that I have somewhere to store things I find before taking them all back up to the surface. I then spend a few minutes just calming down. My heart-rate is increased, my breathing short and sharp. The surprise and sense of losing all of my items had given more of a sense of a survival horror than other games that call themselves survival horror.

Where Minecraft has both an advantage and a disadvantage is that you can change the difficulty options. After this booming I slowly headed up and saw the ledge that the creeper was hiding, moved my way up and found a skeleton hiding behind a corner and decided ‘sod it’ and turned the game to Peaceful mode, removing all the enemies.

So the question I pose to you is this: Am I talking utter bollocks or do you agree? Is there more to it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Minecraft: Part One – Why So Good?!

Greetings fellow humans,

I bid you welcome from a stone house belonging to Thilda and Wilhelm Gildwin, although I am only in here because they currently are not.

For you see I am playing Minecraft. Many months had passed since my last exploration in to the Sandbox worlds and I had forgotten why I used to love playing it. Obviously now I have this little blog to ponder on my thoughts I figured now -while I wait for daylight to appear so I can continue exploring with Colombieres le-bourg Gros Bourg (Population: 9) as a Base- would be a good time.

So what makes Minecraft such a damn good game? Well for me we need to start… At the start! The Creative mode demo that appeared while the game was since classed as Alpha. I had heard a lot about the game but figured it would be terrible but there is a demo and demos are free… Ergo I had a quick play… Immediately I found that it was like playing with LEGO but without all the fun things to make a creation that is practical as well as Awesome. So I paid to join the Alpha of Minecraft, I cannot remember what version it was exactly but I remember I loved playing it a lot in the survival mode. For many months I enjoyed creating things, especially with the new Stuff that was being released almost constantly.

The game started to grow it, and it helped that I was part of this growing experience, not just the gamer at the end of the development with all of the tools but part of that organic growth. Now the game is as different as the Creative Demo version was to that alpha. Importantly Mods have grown and are a massive part of the game.

A perfect Mod example is right now… Day had came and I’d done some stuff and built a crude shelter which I am waiting in, but there are three small villages near where I have put my base. These villages contain people doing jobs, and left to their own devices will eventually -hopefully- let the town expand. However my player can step in and help, and get paid for helping!

This mod is called Millenaire and it is the single largest reason I still play the game. One game I decided that I was going to find a Hindi village and live there. I started in a crude wooden hunt by a lake and slowly built up trust until I could buy a brick mould so that I could create my own “mud” bricks, I then built a grand house made from these bricks. It took a VERY long time but it was worth it for the knowledge that I did this. The world I am currently playing has three villages in close proximity so this is new, especially now that villages can gain/lose favour and eventually be attacked… I guess I need to pick a “home” and then try and help it build up.

All in all, after all this time I still love the game because it is dynamic, evolving and always throws something new my way. Like Civilization V. However, because the worlds are randomly created you end up getting some truly beautiful landscapes such as these few gems from my current world that I’ve been playing for about an hour…

... It's a waterfall!

… It’s a waterfall!

Scary as hell but also very, very beautiful.

Scary as hell but also very, very beautiful.

A natural water and lava-fall. Beautiful but deadly.

A natural water and lava-fall. Beautiful but deadly.

My favourite weather :D

My favourite weather 😀

I loved this spot so a little terraforming to join the waterfall and lake.

I loved this spot so a little terraforming to join the waterfall and lake.

Hello World – Mk. II

Hello World – Mk. II

Greetings and salutations!

As this is my first blog post (here on WordPress!) it makes sense to introduce myself, what I do and what I enjoy babbling about!

Howdy! I am known throughout the (Interweb) Lands as Justice, usually either the Severed or the ForNone type. Although, obviously, my friends do not call me by such preposterous name. They all call be Ol’ Iron Balls… Erm, or just Darren.Usually it is just Darren (no relation to Just Harry) and I am the guitar player for Prog Power Metal band Severed Head and have been for a decade.

Obviously a man cannot feast solely on Prog Power, and thus I also teach, play, perform (there are differences between those two!), write and compose music, mostly guitar based but also some synthy video-game-style electronic stuff. What a beautiful segue, almost like it was planned, eh? I also (try to) create video games in what spare time I have. Working on two prototypes right now, one an RPG based moral game and the other a musical exploration game.

Not only do I enjoy making games but I love playing games and I have a rather wide range of games that I play. We’ll discuss this another time but there are a lot! Of course to get the best out of a game you need to get the best out of your play setup. Due to this I am a PC Gamer, my current computer setup (Dr. Beasty V1.5) has been hand built by the same hands that game and make music. These are pretty talented hands here folks! Even if they do crack and snap a lot!

So what can you expect here? Music talk, gaming talk, probably reviews on stuff I play/read/watch/enjoy, as well as my thoughts on anything to do with the world of technology. Feel free to comment with whatever you feel. I am certainly open to other peoples opinions even if they differ!

Keep it Awesome out there! ../

I’ll be migrating a lot of the content from my other Blog over here as things didn’t especially work out that well over there. Thus be prepared for A WALL OF TEXT! Oh yeah!