Showing posts with label Spotlight On. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spotlight On. Show all posts

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Spotlight On... Constructor

It was the late-nineties and tactical construction simulators were all the rage. Iconic titles such as Sim City, Age of Empires, Theme Park and Civilisation II had shaped the genre for PC gamers, ensuring that there was no shortage in “god sims” on the shelves. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Constructor came onto the scene and offered something that those other games didn’t – a very British sense of humour. Straight out of the warped minds of video game developer System 3, the game’s dark sense of humour was visible from the very start as the opening full-motion-video credits depicted a hapless builder being drowned in liquid cement by a ruthless gangster, all the while set to the game’s jaunty theme song. Constructor wasn’t like any building-sim that had come before – there was a gleefully malicious heart beating behind the isometric view that subverted the genre in a similar manner to fellow god-sim, Dungeon Keeper. Sticking two fingers up at political correctness, the game poked fun at working-class stereotypes and actively encouraged the player to be corrupt in their business handlings.

The game adopted a similar format to other construction-simulation games seen before and since, requiring the player to stockpile various resources, in this instance; timber cement and bricks, before building their properties. Rather than having access to build shiny, modern-looking homes from the outset, the player’s initial choice of buildings are grimmer than a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Not only are the houses low-rent, but the occupants are the type of people you’d find on “Neighbours from Hell” and are either boozy louts or creepy scumbags. This introduces the second core element of Constructor – the people. In order to increase your standards, you have to educate the children of your tenants and cultivate a better class of resident. Installing computers and building schools allows you to rent homes out to more sophisticated occupants and will soon have you climbing the property rental ladder with ease.

While you could choose to play a single-player game, the biggest fun came from Constructor’s multiplayer mode. Pitted against a computer AI or enemy players, you had the ability to sabotage each other’s communities, and the options were endless. You could build a flat full of football hooligans to cause chaos, send gangsters to collect protection money, and even send hippies into empty properties to become squatters. It’s gloriously chaotic and System 3’s cast of undesirables were absolutely hilarious and perfectly realised on-screen. The short animated sequences that appeared when you click on a character were brilliant, and after hours playing the game you would find yourself replicating the voices, such as the Foreman’s long drawn-out “helllooooo” down the phone, or the "do be do" tune that the builders hum whilst redecorating rooms.

The distinctive sound and graphic visuals go a long way towards cultivating Constructor’s unique sense of humour. Each character is voiced by some of the most exaggerated accents ever seen in a video game, which adds to the charm. While the early stages of the game mock the working class quite mercilessly, once the player reaches a level of professionalism, the middle and upper class soon become fodder for ridicule. As a fourteen year-old playing this game, I remember having great fun with the game’s mechanics and the funny voices but returning to it almost twenty years later, I can appreciate it on a whole different level. Despite the over-populated genre, the game remained one of the most original examples of the constructor-sim and it represents that anarchic, spirit of rebellion that was present in the late nineties as smaller developers took chances and brought passion projects to life, rather than releasing sequel after sequel.

While the learning curve was a bit tough, especially against any of the computer AI difficulties, this game was pure FUN from start to finish. Sure, there’s some nostalgia bias at play here as this game did come out at the height of my MS-DOS gaming obsession and sits proudly alongside my love for classic point-and-click adventures, but its sense of humour and willingness to poke fun at council estate stereotypes is what set this game apart from the crowd and still makes me remember it fondly over twenty years after its release. If you’ve never played Constructor before, you should do yourself a favour and take a look at this hidden gem – even twenty years later, the game holds up well.

The classic 1997 version of Constructor is available as a PSone classic download on the PlayStation Store or available digitally on PC through A HD-remake of the original is due for release on 28th April for Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC DVD-Rom.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Spotlight on...Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection

After an extensive run of hardcover graphic novels, collecting key storylines from the Marvel Comics continuity, Hachette Partworks has turned their hand towards the law-man of the future, Judge Dredd. Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection is comprised of eighty hardback graphic novels that collect stories relating to Judge Dredd and key members of his supporting cast, such as Judge Anderson and Devlin Waugh. What distinguishes this series from the existing Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files series is that while the Case Files offer a complete and unabridged collection of all of Judge Dredd’s adventures chronologically, the Mega Collection instead groups stories thematically, allowing for a greater relevance within an individual volume.

Upon first seeing promotional materials for the Mega Collection, I was struck by the amazing cover designs chosen for the series. The stark black and white artwork, enhanced by splashes of red, is simply fantastic and really distinguishes this collection from anything that either Rebellion or Hachette have produced before. There is a real sense of prestige about these books, which becomes even more abundantly clear once you hold one in your hands. Opening one up, you get that luxurious smell of freshly printed pages and the artwork is perfectly replicated on the thick, glossy interior pages. As expected from Rebellion, there is a keen attention to detail with a foreword from current 2000AD editor, Matt Smith, as well as supplementary materials to bookend the stories, normally in the form of bonus artwork, interviews or even articles from 2000AD PR droid, Michael Molcher. It’s clear that this has been a labour of love between Rebellion and Hachette, and their “offspring” is certainly a thing to behold.

Book One - America

As with all part-work collections, the initial book is offered at a discounted price to encourage readers to try the series, with the intention of getting them hooked and onto a subscription, so naturally the first story has to be the most popular and most mainstream storyline to attract repeat customers. For those well-versed in Judge Dredd’s universe, it comes as no surprise that Hachette went with “America”, quite possibly the most influential storyline in the Judge Dredd, at least in terms of how the strip was viewed by its fan base. In his afterword, Michael Molcher delves into the impact that this story had for both Judge Dredd and 2000AD, moving the strip into more adult territory and providing its readers with some challenging questions about the character and his role in Mega City One.

As I mentioned before, this series collects tales thematically and rather than just collecting the initial America storyline, readers are also treated to America II: Fading of the Light and America III: Cadet, as well as a selection of other stories featuring Colin McNeil's artwork. While I was initially sceptical about the thematic approach, it really works well here, allowing readers to follow the main threads of the story throughout the years, without deviation into other storylines. Each story is broken up with a distinct chapter header, allowing customers to recognise the passage of time and get an appreciation for the way the story unfolds over a number of years.

I’d read America before, and wholeheartedly agree with everything that everyone before me has ever said in praise of this great story. From John Wagner’s fantastic script focusing on the star-crossed lovers of America Jara and Bennett Beeny, to Colin MacNeil’s absolutely gorgeous painted artwork, this story earns its iconic status with every page. These “day in the citizen’s lives” stories had been told before on a smaller scale, even casting Dredd as the villain of the piece, but none had the same impact as this tragic love story did. I was less familiar with the sequels, and was very interested to read them – America II: The Fading of the Light is a very worthy follow-up to the original, picking up the story four years on from its dramatic climax. The most compelling thing about this story, and its eventual follow-up, Cadet, is the wild-card it introduces in the form of Cadet Beeny. A child of the revolution, she seems determined to affect change in the Justice Department from within, gradually earning Dredd’s respect and becoming a valued ally in current adventures, proving that the after-effects of America continue to be felt in Mega City One, over twenty years after its publication. No wonder this vital story was chosen to launch Judge Dredd: The Mega Collection.

Book Two - Mechanismo

A surprising choice for the second book in the series, this 1992 story addresses the question of why the Judges don’t use robots to enforce the law, and why the human element is so vital. Interestingly, there are parallels to the film, Robocop, which itself features many of the same themes as Judge Dredd. Whereas the preceding volume solely consisted of Colin MacNeil’s artwork, this edition is more of a medley of different artists, thanks to a collection of different robot-themed stories making up the collection.

The trilogy of Mechanismo stories are also notable for acting as a prelude to the Wilderlands story-arc, which saw the wedge between Dredd and McGruder widen even further as Dredd is accused of criminal damage and perjury and sentenced to twenty years on Titan. Presumably, this storyline will be dealt with in a future edition of the collection, perhaps one focused on Chief Judge McGruder.

As with America, the attention to detail for this collection is staggering. It looks absolutely gorgeous with a similar black, white and red cover image, this time featuring one of the Mechanismo robots. Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the spine reads Vol. 24 instead of Vol. 2, and the reason for this is because the volumes are numbered by themes, and not chronologically ordered by release date. Once complete, the eighty volume set will span a number of key themes, including Democracy, The Dark Judges, Supporting Characters, Robot Rampage, The Mega Epics and Mad City.


Future books include collections such as: The Apocalypse War, Origins, Judge Anderson: Shamballa and Mandroid, reflecting a mix of both classic and modern stories. While there is the unfortunate conflict and cross-over with the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files, I honestly think that this thematic approach utilised by the editorial droids in assembling this collection definitely warrants long-time Dredd fans checking this out. In some instances, entire series that will never been collected in the Case Files banner will be brought together as part of the Mega Collection. As well as the core books, Hachette are also offering subscribers some additional bonuses such as a replica Judge Dredd badge, takeaway mug, tin coasters and metal bookends. There’s even the option to upgrade your subscription and receive six ultra-limited edition prints from top Dredd artists, adding an extra level of exclusivity to the collection.

Subscriptions are available on the collection’s dedicated website, and can currently be started from any of the first ten issues, ensuring that even if you missed the initial editions, you can get a full set of books. It’s easily one of the best, and most lavishly produced part-work collections I've ever seen and should be an essential buy for both casual and experienced Judge Dredd fans alike.

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