Where the High Street Got it Wrong

Lots of hand wringing around about the news that HMV has followed Jessops in going into receivership. Given that HMV reportedly have 38% of the UK music market as well as some major gig venues, distribution and ticketing, it’s going to shake things up.

This is a wakeup call for High Street chains. In my experience, the thing that has reduced my spend is poor customer service. There’s no way any bricks and mortar shop can compete with online vendors on price so the differentiator has to be something that adds real value to the shopper. The problem is, as times have got harder, service and flexibility has plummeted.

Some examples. Just before Christmas, HMV had an Android tablet on their web site for a very good price. I ordered one and got the email to say it was on the way. Then it got interesting. People on the various bargain hunter websites such as HotUKDeals started to chatter about the rumour HMV didn’t actually have any. It then moved on to this being a regular thing with HMV. An awful lot of people said they had vowed never to shop there again having been caught out before. Sure enough, my order turned sour. Whether incompetence or policy, it seems HMV’s website had no real stock management and would happily accept orders for products that didn’t exist. People remember these sort of things and after looking around, it seemed within a certain section of the online community at least, HMV had joined Sony as one of the companies people loved to hate.

Another example. I used to buy a lot of stuff at Jessops. I mean a lot. They could always be relied on to do a deal. They couldn’t always match the best online prices but if they got close, they got my business as I valued being able to browse, especially on high value items. As their fortunes dipped, so did their interest in deals. Whereas once they could be relied on to knock £999 down to say £850, the last time I went there they knocked 50p off a £450 lens IF I BOUGHT A FILTER TOO. They were pretty surly about it to boot. That was the last time I shopped there.

In both these examples, they lost customers for stuff they really should be doing right, but weren’t.

Going back to HMV, there’s been some interesting blogs today from people on the inside and it seems the senior management were woefully missing the way things were going such as dismissing downloading music as a fad, saying they didn’t need a web presence (OK, that was a while ago) or throwing out marketing people for pointing this sort of stuff out to them. Old school thinking in a world that was no longer old school. Time and time again they clung on to the old model, sure they would win through and that each new tech opportunity was a temporary thing. Bad news HMV, you were too late to every party and now people have stopped inviting you.

Atari Jaguar – Fight For Life – Review

Last one… <sniff>

Iain Laskey previews what is possibly the most eagerly awaited Jag title yet, Fight For Life

Every console these days must have its beat-em-up and after some decidedly lacklustre titles, the Jaguar bounces back with a real winner.

Fight For Life has been a long while coming. More than any other Jaguar game, it has been back to the drawing board time and time again as the opposition have upped the ante. It looks like the wait has been worth it though.

From the moment you plug the game in, you know it’s something special. The intro screen is like a mini pop video with the music and fighting synchronised along with zooms and cuts from one view to another. Choose from training, two player or tournament and the battling begins. The plot is largely irrelevant. You can play against the computer or a human opponent. The computer plays a pretty mean game and is great to practice with but you can’t beat (sic) playing against a friend to really get the competitive juices going.

Each of the eight opponents have their own special moves as well as the standard ones. Every time you beat one, you get to choose two of their special moves to add to your own. As you progress, your range of kicks and punches increases. However, there are so many, most people will probably settle on a few favourites. There are also combo-moves which are extremely hard to get right but well worth it in terms of hit points and spectacular on-screen action. How about a face slap combo? Try and remember >^B<^B>^B! With button combinations like that though, a few more hit point wouldn’t have gone amiss.

A fun feature is an invisible force field that surrounds the play area. If you can push your opponent into this, you get to see them electrocuted by long blue sparks. The jerking bodies and sound effects are not for the squeemish!

The computer controlled opponents each have a definite personality and what works against one may not work against the next so it’s a constant learning process getting the tactics right. To beat an opponent, you need to win two out of three matches. The early ones are soon mastered but later ones do take a bit more work. If successful, you get a password to allow you to keep the new skills you have gained.

Given that so many people try to put down the Jaguar, the speed and detail of the graphics should be a revelation to many. Each fighter is fully texture mapped and the various moves are well animated. A nice touch are the little ‘dances’ that the winners perform at the end of each match. The camera angle can be set to fixed or rolling. In the latter mode it pans wildly around the arena following the players. Sometimes close up, it can then fall away to a long shot. Very occasionally it can make it difficult to judge your positioning but this rarely lasts for long.

The music is good and consists of the usual techno tunes. Tempest 2000 has a lot to answer for! The sound effects whilst sparse are well chosen with kicks producing gentle whooshing noises and characters grunting and squeeling when hit hard. An awesomely deep voice introduces each new match.

Comparisons to Tekken and Virtua Fighter are inevitable. I’d be lying if I said this came into their league. Given that they come on CD with hundreds of megabytes of sounds and graphics and Fight For Life is all packed into a 4Mb cartridge, it’s an astounding achievement. It may be missing some of the polish and sophistication of Tekken but it matches them for sheer playability. The only real caveat is that for long term value for money, you need another human opponent to play against. Highly recommended.

Product: Fight For Life
Price:     £59.99
Contact: JTS Atari
Telephone: 01753 xxxxxx

Highs: Superb playability, texture mapped players, sound effects
Lows: Price, some moves tricky to achieve, no really powerful moves

In Short… The wait was worth it! 90%

Atari Jaguar – Cannon Fodder – Review

Nearly there with the retro reviews…

Cannon Fodder is the first Jaguar title from Virgin. Having been released on just about every other platform, it needs no introduction. When you first start the game, you are treated to a bouncy theme song that is rather reminiscent of Ace of Bass. Press the fire button and the action begins.

The game consists of 24 missions, each with up to 6 phases. Once each mission has been completed, you can save your current position. With so many missions to get through, this is pretty much an essential. Each mission requires you to destroy various targets in order to finish. You start off armed with machine guns but you can bolster up your kit with grenades and bazookas that can be picked up along the way. These can be a bit hard to use in the heat of battle though, requiring you to hold button B whilst pressing button C. Each enemy is dispatched with a blood curdling variety of screams and groans and buildings explode with satisfying amounts of flame and debris, the latter sometimes landing on your head if you’re not careful.

Later missions add new features including a variety of vehicles. These are a bit tougher to kill although you always board them yourself and turn the tables on the enemy. If you’re lucky you can find the Supa Dupa Boostas which add such nice things as heat seeking missiles and bullet-proof vests to your troops.

There are five different terrain types, jungle, arctic waste, desert, moorlands and underground. Each has its own set of features and traps. The enemy comes in different varieties too. It can be a bit embarrassing to pick on a single enemy with your team, only to find he’s armed with a bazooka or grenades.

The graphics are small but detailed with lots of humour as dead bodies bounce around, exploding trees fly across the screen and at the end of each level, your victorious troops jump up and down.

The sound is excellent from the intro tune to the various background noises of trickling water, howling wind and jungle sounds. The graphics however seem to be unchanged from the computer versions. The shading is fairly course with few colours being used. Even the ray-traced stills look like they haven’t been updated. The Jaguar is capable of much better than this and it’s a pity Virgin didn’t see fit to get the graphics improved for this release.

I found the controls a bit tricky at first. I think this game is more suited to a mouse. After half an hour or so though I found it much better though. The only time it got frustrating was when the troops get stuck behind an obstacle and you have to fiddle about trying to get the right angle to free them again.

Where this game really scores though is in the ‘just one more go’ stakes. Every time you die, you KNOW you can do better next time. Each level adds new features and when trip wires blow you up, you just have to try again and again until you find the best way to complete it.


Cannon Fodder won’t get top marks for its graphics but when it comes to sheer addictive gameplay, it’s a thoroughbred. This isn’t a game to show your jaguar off to your friends with but it will certainly give you many hours of good plain fun and in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Product Name: Cannon Fodder
Publisher:         Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Europe) Ltd.
RRP:                 £49.99

Score               7 out of 10

Atari Jaguar – Defender 2K- Review

Yet more Retro goodness although rereading this, not one of my better reviews. Pretty shabby. Sorry.

Save the humans! Defender 2000 has arrived and it’s blasting time.

Once again, Jeff Minter has woven his magic to create an updated and enhanced version of the timeless arcade game Defender. There are three versions to play, Classic, Plus and 2000.

For those who aren’t old enough to remember the original, Defender has you controlling a ship that flies over a scrolling landscape protecting humans from invading nasties. There are several kinds of enemies. The main ones are landers that steal humans and use them to turn into mutants which are faster deadlier versions of landers. Other targets includes ones that break into swarmers when blasted. These are small,fast and very hard to shoot. You can either be shot or collide with trails left by certain invaders. Each level has a fixed number of enemies and when they’ve all been destoyed you get a bonus for your remaining humans. Your basic weapons are a laser and smart-bombs that destroy everything currently on screen. You get an extra life and smart-bomb every 10,000 points. If all the humans are lost then the planet explodes. It’s then wall to wall mayhem as you get attacked from all sides. The action is fast and exciting. On later levels the adrenaline really starts pumping. In my opinion, Defender is probably one of the finest games ever designed. Atari brought in the original designer and coder of the arcade version, Eugene Jarvis for final approval and he was very happy with the conversion.

Starting with the Classic version, this is a near as dammit perfect copy. The sounds effects are sampled straight from the original game. The game plays and feels just like the arcade version in almost all respects. I couldn’t find a real arcade machine to check but the end of wave graphics did seem a little different though.

The Plus version adds updated graphics with detailed, shaded sprites. The ground features some psychedelic swirling colours that only Mr Minter could provide. Finally, there are some power-ups to enhance your weaponry. This too is very playable.

Last and unfortunately least comes the 2000 mode. Whereas Tempest 2000 was a superb variation, Defender 2000 sadly doesn’t cut it. The graphics are just far too fast. The background is completely different and it’s quite hard to keep track of where you are and what’s going on. The scrolling is rough and leaps along in quite large jumps. There are some nice bonus items to collect to help make your ship a bit more powerful though. Despite many attempts at playing this version, I found it more a case of luck that skill when achieving a high score.

Each flavour of Defender has its own high score. The high score letters have those Minter sparkling trails as you add your name. There are some nicely drawn static screens too.

Another plus is some excellent techno music that’s even better than that in Tempest 2000. Crank up that volume and enjoy!

Defender 2000 has a lot to live up to after Tempest 2000. If you want an almost perfect copy of original Defender then this game is a must. The Plus version is a bonus and in some ways can be more fun to play. However, the star of the show, Defender 2000 is really just a case of ‘nice try’.

The bottom line for me though is that when I send this review cart back to Atari, I’m going to go straight down the shops to buy my own copy, just for playing Classic Defender.

Product Name: Defender 2000
Publisher:         Atari.
Telephone:        01753 xxxxxx
RRP:                £49.99

Pros:                Classic version. Sound effects, Music.
Cons:               2000 mode too hard.

Score 7

Concert Tickets – Too Expensive?

Might as well start the year with a moan.

I was reading Mojo magazine (as you do) and noticed a ticket stub for a King Crimson gig from 1972 with the price showing as £1. A quick calculation shows this is the equivalent of £10 in 2012 money. I then cast my mind back to the Gary Numan Wembley gigs in 1981 – A fiver back then. That means £20 today or if you take into account the fact he famously subsidised every ticket to stop the fans being fleeced for the large venue, about £24 each.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve not paid much less than £50 for any semi-decent band in recent years (to be fair, smaller bands can still be seen for much less but I’m talking about the bigger ones here) and have had to pass on a few who wanted £100+ which was beyond my reach. So why the huge increase?

Two main culprits keep cropping up. Firstly, the rise of Ticketmaster who realised how much can be made just selling tickets. You know when they add an extra £5 to the price to allow you to print the ticket at home, something is pretty rotten. It’s now assumed that any ticket you buy wil pick up a whole raft of extra charges out of all kilter to the actual cost of providing them. Yes, I expect them to make a profit too but c’mon!

Another more interesting view is that there has been a shift from artists making their money via album/single sales to gigs. Given the high levels of piracy, smaller income from aggresive licencing deals with outlets such as Google’s Play store  and Apple’s Itunes plus the tiny residuals they get from Spotify and the like, this does make sense.

A Concert ticket breakdown from 2011 showed an average $70 dollar ticket netting $41 for the artist with the rest made up mainly from additional fees ($14) and the cost of putting on the show ($11.50).

Certainly, it’s a given these days that any half decent band will be expected to put on a major light show plus other sundry gimicks and that does cost money. That said, Numan did manage the epic Wembley gigs for the equivalent of £20.

On balance, it looks to me that the bulk of the increase does seem to lie with the artist shifting their income streams from CDs/Vinyl to gigs. Given that most CDs are a fiver and often less, especially as downloads compared to the £15 they hit at one point, this doesn’t seem entirely unfair. It would certainly be interesting to see some stats on how a band like say U2 derive their income now compared to 20 years ago. Sales of music via download show a healthy year on year increase but the prices are lower and the percentage going to the band is lower too.

Welcome to the modern world then, cheap music as downloads (played on tinny mobile phones or iPods but I’ll save that one for another day) but if you want to see it live, be prepared to have deep pockets.