Gemr Article – The History of Magic: The Gathering

My latest article for Gemr.com looks at the history of the longest running collectable card game in the world, Magic: The Gathering.

This one took a lot of research as I’d never really looked into the history of the game before despite having played it off-and-on since 2013. It’s not a comprehensive recount of the game, but more a general overview.

Still, I hope you enjoy. 😀

Read the full article at Gemr.com

In the Footsteps of H. G. Wells.

Upon moving to my current apartment and looking in to what there is to do in the local area, I was extremely excited to learn that my new domicile was in easy driving distance Woking, the scene of the first Martian landing in H. G. Wells‘ seminal science fiction novel, War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds is one of my favorite stories of all time, however, I was introduced to it via the amazing musical adaptation by Jeff Wayn before having read the book. If you’re not familiar with it, War of the Worlds tells the story of Martians invading 1890’s London. It was one of the earliest alien invasion stories and set the standard by which all future such stories would be judged. Everything from Day the Earth Stood Still to Avengers owes something to War of the Worlds.

Wells wrote War of the Worlds 1895 and 1897. For the first two years of that period he lived in Woking, which is most probably why the beginning of the story – and the first Martian landing – takes place there. He would regularly go for walks and bike rides in the area, particularly in Horsell Common, and would imagine what it would look like if aliens invaded the quiet area.

As one would expect from a town that homed one of the world’s most famous authors, Woking has a few mementoes to the Wells and you can easily take a tour of the town following these. This is the journey my wife and I took on our visit.


The house in which Wells lived between 1895 and 1896

The tour, sensibly enough, start at the building which Wells called home for that two year period. The building, which at the time Wells lived there was called ‘Lynton’ is now 141, Maybury Road. It’s a rather quaint little house with the only indication of Wells having lived there the English Heritage blue plaque displayed on the building’s front which reads

H. G. Wells
Visionary Author
Lived and worked here
1895 – 1896

From here the tour moves to Horsell Common, one of the most important locations in the book and the place I was most excited to see. An absolutely beautiful forested area, it was wonderful walking along the rough paths between the trees.

The biggest point of interest here is an area known as “The Beach.” Aptly named due to all the sand mixed in with the soil, there is a depression here that often fills with water, giving the impression of a crater-like hole. This is where most consider to be the site of the crashed Martian cylinder that the narrator of War of the Worlds discovers.

On the other side of the Common, after a bit of walking, we reached Wheatsheaf Common. Across the road from us stool the Wheatsheaf Public House in which two of the characters from the novel discuss the Martian invasion.

Further along we came to the town’s subway station. On the walls of the subway foot tunnels has been created a brilliant mural depicting the Martians laying siege to Woking. Through the subway tunnels and out the other side we came to possibly the most impressive part of the tour.

In the center of the town in Crown Square stands a seven meter sculpture of one of the Martian tripods which the aliens used to march across London in War of the Worlds. It’s a very impressive sight with the sun glinting off its chromed features. Around it can be seen representations of the bacteria that, after man had failed, destroyed the Martian invaders (spoiler, sorry). Nearby is also a representation of one of the Martian cylinders, ploughed into the earth.

The final attraction on the tour was a statue of the man himself, H. G. Wells. While War of the Worlds is perhaps Wells’ most famous novel, he was quite prolific during his time in Woking, also writing The Time Machine and completing The Island of Doctor Moreau.

The statue depicts Wells sitting in his writing chair, holding a sphere in his hand as he studies it. The sphere is a reference to the spherical spaceship used in his story The First Men in the Moon, while on the back of the chair is inscribed the date 802,701AD; the year the time traveler from The Time Machine travelled to and met the Morlocks. Creeping up from the base of the statue and winding its way around the leg of Wells’ chair is the Red Weed, a crawling, vine-like plant native to Mars that the Martians bring with them during War of the Worlds.

Visiting Woking and following the steps of one of the greatest authors the world has known was quite a humbling experience. It is no understatement to say that War of the Worlds changed the face of popular fiction and its influence can still be felt. It was wonderful to see the scenery that inspired the story and it will make it that much more enjoyable next time I visit the Martian invasion of Earth.

The Beautiful Horror of Dante’s Inferno

Thanks to the brilliance of the X-Box One’s Backwards Compatibility initiative I’ve been able to experience some wonderful games that I missed on original release due to bowing out of the console gaming arena for a few years.

The most recent of these I’ve enjoyed is Dante’s Inferno, a graphic, brutal and incredibly fun interpretation of the first part of Italian poet Dante Alighieri‘s epic poem The Divine Comedy.

If you are not aware, Inferno tells the story of Dante’s journey through the Nine Circles of Hell. On his way he witnesses all kinds of demons, devils and torments. Absolutely perfect themes for an action/horror video game!

Originally released in 2010, Dante’s Inferno was developed by Visceral Games, the studio who had two years earlier released another horror classic, Dead Space. Dante is much more action oriented than Dead Space with the horror of the game coming from the ghastly surroundings and terrifying enemies Dante encounters rather than atmosphere and suspense.

Our damned hero, Dante.

Indeed, Visceral have created a wonderfully realized version of Hell with suffering and woe everywhere you look. Sinners are impaled on spikes, trapped wailing behind walls or being boiled in literal oceans of blood. Fire and brimstone rains down and depaire is thick in the air.

Or at least it would be if Dante wasn’t such a badass. Rather than the historical poet he is known as, Visceral has reimagined Dante as a Templar Knight who is off fighting in the Crusades. Having committed numerous atrocities during the course of the war, Dante is finally stabbed in the back by an enemy soldier. With this Death appears to Dante, condemning him to Hell. However, Dante refuses to accept his fate and instead swears to redeem himself. Then, he kills Death and steal his gigantic scythe. Great start, mate.

Upon arriving home Dante finds his love, Beatrice, slain by an assassin. Her spirit appears to him, saying she knew he would return to her and not to fear her death. At that moment Lucifer appears and steals Beatrice away to Hell so that he may torment her in place of Dante. Of course, Dante isn’t too happy about this so follows Lucifer to Hell with the intention of saving Beatrice’s soul. Thus, the game begins.

The depiction of Hell is beautifully horrific

As soon as your gain control of Dante you realise that he is going to be quite the match for the forces of the Underworld. Still armed with Death’s giant scythe, as well as a Holy Cross, Dante starts out the game with quite the arsenal of moves. From stabbing and trusting blows, to sweeps and crushing moves, the scythe allows Dante to almost clear the battlefield all by itself. However, the Holy Cross allows for some fun ranged attacks as well as blast attacks that will send enemies flying. Both weapons can be upgraded over the course of the game, giving Dante access to more powerful moves, combos and abilities.

Upgrades are acquired using souls; basically the in-game currency. Souls can be attained in one of several ways; killing enemies is the most common but you will also encounter Damned through your adventures. These are notable sinners who have been sent to Hell for some great slight against God and you have the choice of punishing them for their sins, which effectively kills them again, or absolving them and granting them entry to Heaven. Either method will grant you souls, but punishing the Damned will give you “evil” souls while absolution will grant you “Holy” souls. Each of these can be used to upgrade your scythe and Holy Cross abilities respectively, so there is a bit of tactical decision making to be done here depending on how you like to play or what abilities you feel you’ll need.

Once you’ve bought some of the higher tier abilities combat becomes an absolute joy as you dart around the field smashing, slashing and raining Holy Light down on your foes. Once you get into the swing of it, the combat system is extremely fluid and you’ll be pulling off moves, countering and coming in for big attacks all over the place. It’s a lot of fun!

Dante slices through a horde of demons

The real star of the game though is Hell itself. As I mentioned earlier, Visceral have created a truly wonderful – if horrific – world to explore. It’s gross and vile, but in a way that is fun and intriguing. Your morbid curiosity will always want to know what new horror is behind the next corner.

The levels are huge, too, and have some brilliant set pieces. Crossing the river Styx is no easy matter of hopping on a boat. No, here Charon, the ferryman, is the boat and after defeating the hoard of demons that awaits you on the other side of the River you ensure Charon will not give you any further trouble…by ripping his head off.

As one would probably expect from a game about Hell -and, if you’ve played Dead Space, from Visceral themselves – Dante’s Inferno is very violent. It may not be Mortal Kombat 10 levels of gore, but it certainly has its moments. Just check out this little video of how Dante dispatches King Minos, the Judge of the Damned…

Ouch…

Dante’s Inferno is certainly not for the faint of heart. However, the violence never feels over excessive. It is appropriate here as Dante is a dark game dealing with dark subject matter. While Dante is on a journey of (hopeful) redemption the game constantly asks if he is actually worth saving. Dante’s sins are laid bare as the game’s story moves on and the question of just how far one can go before they are beyond redeeming is a consistent theme. Even Lucifer suggests that Dante is more evil than he as all Lucifer did was stand up for what he believed in, whereas Dante has slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands.

Dante’s Inferno is a dark, morbid, gruesome journey through Hell, but for those who are not turned off by its imagery it is a lot of fun. The story – while some criticism was leveled at it for its departure from the source material, especially in regards to Beatrice – is much deeper and thought provoking that one may at first give it credit for.

Dante’s in-game story is told via some wonderful 2D animation.

Upon release the game received some criticism from reviewers for being too similar to God of War in regards to its combat. I’ve never played the God of War games so I can not comment on that myself, but I think that passing on Dante due to this is to give the game a great disservice. After all, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor combined the exploration of Assassin’s Creed with the combat of the Batman: Arkham series and was one of the most well recieved games of 2014. It doesn’t matter if games borrow ideas, it’s what they do with them that counts.

Dante’s Inferno is a a wonderfully entertaining title for which the only true criticism I have is that the last Circle of Hell unfortunately amounts to not much more than several challenge rooms. However, that one flaw is surrounded by one of the best action games I’ve played in recent memory and it certainly deserves its second life on X Box’s backwards compatibility service.

Gemr – 5 Characters We Want to See in Spider-Verse 2

I absolutally loved Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. I’d even go so far as it say it’s the best Spider-Man film yet! It worked on so many diffirent levels and introduced cinema goers to some more great Marvel characters. Given the success of the Spider-Verse film it seems pretty certain a sequle is on the way.

Thus, as I also a loved the comic event storyline the film was based on I thought it’d be fun to go back to that 2014 event and see what alternate Spiders it would be fun to see in any potential sequle. My five top choices forms the bases of my latest article for Gemr.com, which you can read in full HERE.

Enjoy. 😉