Battleborn – Interview with Randy Varnell

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Back at Gamescom, Sean got to check out Battleborn, the new first person shooter from Gearbox that marries elements of online play and the MOBA character style with their unique design and vision. He was recently invited to check out how the game has moved along since then and also got a chance to sit down with Randy Varnell, the  Creative Director of Battleborn, and talk about the game.

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Sean Cleaver: I played this at Gamescom and at this stage it feels like it has a lot more of its own identity. At Gamescom it was good but it still felt like it was Borderlands. Since then, we’ve had the videos of the 25 characters, it’s moved on and it feels like it’s become its own thing now. Does that feel the same developing it as well?

Randy Varnell: Yeah I think so. I started this right on the heels of Borderlands 2, I was one of the six that rolled right on to this project and very early prototypes were using Maya and little miniature Axtons as the dwarf. We did that for some reason, but we prototyped a lot, we had some similarities in gameplay like the action skills. So we did some things and had some rapid changes to the engine, just to try and prove out the concept. There was a time we were even using psycho midgets instead of robots for the minions. There was a point where it really started to deviate and it takes so long for us as developers, we use proxy models and prototypes for so long, and then all of sudden you’ve got enough characters and enough art in.

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Honestly, it was Wrath that did it for me. The very first time we had a full on melee character implemented in to the game. He was our first and the one where experimented a lot of different ways. How do you make melee work in a first person game? How do you balance it, and balance it against ranged players? He was our character that we learned on and he got in at one point with almost a Zelda-esque melee combos. Almost like Zelda and a fighting game rhythm combat and it started to really satisfy us.

It took a while and you guys are now beginning to see it. I mean we were competitive for so long so when layered a campaign back on top of it, we got some really cool and weird characters to fill out the roster. Marketing has its own plans and wanted to emphasize campaign for all the right reasons, it’s one of the things that is unique about our game. I’m glad that you can finally see enough parts that it’s something new and expanded from Borderlands.

Three years we’ve had this and it’s been playable for tow. August/September 2012 was right around the time Borderlands launched. By the time that it did I’d already been working with this for two or three months so we were already putting the first touches on. I think we had a playable rough prototype as early as October/November 2012. I mean it was really rough, and it was pretty quick. It took six months for us to be comfortable with the game and then another for the big art stuff to come in. We were still working on other games at Gearbox, Borderlands DLC, and other things.

About February or March 2013 we had enough to do a Gearbox wide play test, with some folks at 2K and this was the first time that we knew we had a game. There’s been some changes since then but, it’s been a while.

SC: One of the things being Creative Director and coming from Borderlands in to this. I think a lot of people are interested in how the brain goes to the screen, from the writing and everything how it gets from the brain to what you see. What kind of processes happen?

RV: Well there’s a lot o different ways and, to give you a bit of an overview, those first few months Randy Pitchford was very instrumental. He sat down and helped us with the overall game vision. He helped come up with the concept of the fiction. The whole “last star” idea, it’s not been done a lot in sci-fi. That’s an extreme epic and that was a big moment, deciding that we wanted to express our characters through factions and taking some inspirations. We always loved what Game of Thrones did. There’s always fighting but sometimes people need to ally together and we wanted that kind of vehicle.

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When you get the art and start working on the character, I mean very early on it was gameplay first. We knew we wanted a melee guy, we wanted a ranged guy and we wanted a support. We started with those first. Thorne, Wrath and Miko and to an degree Montana was one of our early characters too. We called him the big guy, but was also playing with his size. In a first person game size makes a huge difference so when you have a big guy like Montana you balance him differently than you do a little scrawny character like Origi, who is tiny and thin and jumping about so much that he’s really hard to hit. So you have to do things with the speed, the health and the hitboxes to get through all of that.

Then you get to the art and go through a process of what we want the game to look like. We have our art director, Scott Kester who was one of the guys who was very intrumental for the Borderlands franchise. He came on for Borderlands 1 and was one of the guys that helped that visual style change of Borderlands, if you remember earlier the earlier screenshots from that game. So this is, I think his first full project as art director and honestly, I love Scott so much.

We said “This is a big vibrant sci-fi colorful game, what do you want to do?” so in that case I gave Scott an open ring and said “do something.” So he got a couple of concept artists and they went through a process of doing this and trying that and make the big art sheets and bring them all together. He started some stylistic treatments and some environment concepts and very early on he developed the language, he said “I’m going for Pixar meets Anime.” He wants that clean line kind of smooth rendered Pixar character, almost like the 3D model, but also the edginess and the maturity of anime. It still needed an edge to it, it’s not a kids game. I mean a lot of people are going to be able to play, but anime has that great maturity, it has a certain style elements that really exaggerate character features. And when he got the first few models, the first one we hated, the second one we loved. And then we started with the concept artists and started to go wide and explore.

One of the things I think is reflected in the art and playing the game is the tone, I suppose you’d call it a trademark Gearbox tone of “We’re not being completely serious, take it with some humor,” you know with things like Butt tactics which is one of the character’s videos.

You know quite early on with the heavy stakes of the last star in the entire universe, we were contemplating what the sky looked like. Well it’s black, there’s no stars. We actually contemplated for several months right at the beginning trying to be a bit more serious and dynamic, thinking this was going to be our sci-fi franchise. And I think it was Oscar Mike, our standard assault soldier who was originally named Chuck Abrahams. It was also the name of the developer who was making the character so it was weird and when someone suggested that, because he was a caricature of a soldier we should just call him Oscar Mike, like the military language for “On Mission,” it changed. And then he was the first VO test for the game and our writer Aaron Linney came in and started playing with that and writing, he’d have some dumb lines like “I’m going to air strike a pizza party” or something. And when he explained that he’s not really a caricature, he’s just very earnest. It became “Airstrikes are bad ass” and everything he said is in that tone of voice and acted in that way and we said “that’s really funny, oh we’re going to make a funny game again aren’t we?”

And then you get Montana and you start to go there and then you just go from there. I think it’s a great thing for us, we don’t get too dire or two serious on topic. I think we come out somewhere between Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who, in the way that our tone and our humor works in there and it’s quite a unique place.

SC: What would you like to see really come out of the game between now and the February release date?

RV: I’ve worked on several big games now and one of the things that’s the most important thing is polish. You know I think you’re already feeling some of the promise on content. People are playing five or six or seven games and they’re not even able to play all of the fifteen characters we have on display today. So that’s not even a quarter of what we’re revealing that’s been played today. But polish is the thing that really goes from making it a pretty good game to a great game. And that’s a lot of things, like really telegraphing that you’ve been hit, adding that hit feedback, the messages, the sound and so on. And with having so many characters and being able to go back and see that it’s there really makes a difference between “that was pretty good” and “this experience was amazing.” There are times where we’ve got the effects and colour, we’ve got a who was an artist on The Iron Giant and that kind of Don Blume 2D animation style who came in and sat with our effects team and took the 2D hand drawn effects and mapped them on to 3D objects like the explosions and again, that’s another touch of stylistic effect and art on that.

And then we’ve loved it so much but there are times were there’s so much colour and you can’t see what’s going on so you have to expand and pull back, expand and pull back, and polish is all of those things, and those touches. And I think more than anything else it’s about having the time to go back and tune and polish and balance. We need to create the content and get it out there and make it as cool and satisfying as what you’ve seen tonight and I think the polish is what’s going to make it a really awesome game.

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Zelda Orchestra plays on US Late Night TV

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That’s right, Stephen Colbert has knocked it out of the park again by featuring, not only video games on his show, but some of the best example of video gaming. This time, he invited Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses to perform on his Late Show with Stephen Colbert programme.

The move is slightly promotional as the new game The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is coming out for the Nintendo 3DS System, but as far as promotional appearances go, this is absolutely amazing. I can only imagine, with the wealth of music in video games that we go on about, that Classic FM now regularly feature and even BBC Radio 3 has started, how many different opportunities there could be to show of games this way to a mainstream audience.

The orchestra played select pieces from the game along with other famous pieces of music from the Zelda series, interspersed on screen with clips from the game, as a suite. If you don’t know what that means, simply put it’s taking different bits of music and putting them all together to make one long piece.

This comes after the former Comedy Central political satirist featured prominent YouTuber PewDiePie on his show and also gave a platform for Sean Murray of Hello Games to show off No Man’s Sky, which we covered.

You can watch the clip from Colbert’s show on the YouTube video below and you can catch Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses on tour and find out more information about them on their website.

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Minecraft Story Mode – Interview

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Last week, we got to play the Minecraft Story Mode with Laura Perusco, the Creative Communication Manager from Telltale Games. You can read our review of the game here shortly.

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Sean Cleaver – Minecraft story mode, it’s lots of fun. It’s been worked on for quite a while. When did you first get the project germinating, how did it come about?

Laura Perusco – It basically came from, you know how we’re doing Tales from the Borderlands? Well that came first and we were already working on a video game that’s set in the world of another video game. We started thinking about what else we can do this with. A whole bunch of people in the office play Minecraft or have kids that play Minecraft, and that’s something that doesn’t have a story. People were just creating their own stories in that world. So we had the idea of reaching out to Mojang and floating the idea of doing a game. This was way back before Microsoft brought them out so our contract is with Mojang.

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SC – Minecraft is a very precise visual style because of what it is. But you’ve also managed to find a cinematic style out of this. There’s a lot of YouTube videos that have done these small animations. You seem to have created almost a movie out of it.

LP –  That’s pretty much what we do. We do playable stories, so our games are often thought of as playable movies or playable TV shows. Just the aesthetic of the world of Minecraft is very unique in and of itself. So we actually built a lot of the environments in Minecraft first and exported them to our engine, so it would absolutely, unequivocally Minecraft. Then we added a little bit to make it look more cinematic like depth of focus and changes and stuff like that but it’s all Minecraft. Absolutely.

SC – You’ve got your main characters, a band of four if you will, it’s a very traditional…

LP – And the pig.

SC – And the pig. I’ll get on to the pig now. The pet pig, Reuben. This year seems to be the year of the Dog for video games, every game has a dog and everybody loves them. You’ve gone with the pig and he seems to be much more charming than any dog that I’ve seen this year so far in a game.

LP – Reuben is my favourite character I actually had new business cards with him on. I think something that’s really cool about Reuben is that no one ever thinks of eating dogs in video games and that’s a new dynamic that comes up because pigs in Minecraft are always thought of as food. So it has that interesting dynamic.

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SC – I don’t think I’ve ever though about having a pet pig in Minecraft. I don’t I ever use them for food either but there you go. I quite like the idea with the story building on, a bit like what Minecraft really is, the convention scene. Creating Minecraft fandom within Minecraft itself with Ender Con and the Order of the Stone. What drew you to create that story out of it? Was there a lot of going around, looking at Minecraft, looking at the world, looking at the real life interactions with Minecraft? And are there plans for any more?

LP – The community around Minecraft is so important. That’s the reason for its huge popularity. There are so many videos online and people creating their own stuff. That’s what Minecraft is, it’s about creating things and sharing them. So we knew that was a huge part of the licence.  I actually went to Minecon in London to show the trailer and that was fantastic.

There’s so much love around this game that we wanted to put something like that in there. You might have noticed but the people who come on stage to introduce Gabriel at Endercon are Lydia and Owen, their director of communications. They voiced the characters too. But the thing about the characters in this game is they don’t know they’re in Minecraft. They don’t have any meta awareness or some other real world. As for more? We hope people play it and people enjoy it but beyond that, anything can happen.

Minecraft: Story Mode by Telltale games is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC and Mac.

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Days Out – EGX (Eurogamer Expo)

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In a new, irregular series of features, TheGameJar goes and visits gaming events and lets you know whether or not they’re any good, how much of your wallet you’ll have left and if you’ll enjoy them.

It’s true that the forced move from the well known and relatively easy to get to Earls Court to Birmingham was a bit of a sticking point for Londoners (myself practically falling in to that catchment area). When I say easy to get to, that’s a geographical and logistical misnomer. Because Birmingham and the N.E.C. in particular is the most connected place in the country outside of London. In fact its location makes travel and attendance easier for everyone across the country.

What it doesn’t do however is help justify the cost of travel. I booked my ticket in advance on Monday for the Thursday (I could only afford to attend for the one day). This cost me £22 but it was a timed return, so I left my home town at 7:05 and had to get the 20:05 train back. Any other choice would have thrown me up to £75 for a single ticket and £158 for an open return. There are of course cheaper ways to do it with more advanced booking, group tickets, driving yourself and even using the 10% discount code EGX put on for Virgin Trains. But compared to my incredibly open £25 London travel card from last year which allowed me to go in to central London, see sights, eat slightly less overpriced food, and enjoy a beverage by the Thames, it is an extortionate cost. One that sadly is completely out of the control of the organisers and, it seems, anyone that doesn’t own a train company.

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It doesn’t help that there is practically nothing else to do. It’s like that Tom Hanks movie “The Airport” where the guy can’t leave. The N.E.C. is Birmingham only because it isn’t close to any other major city. It’s barely in Birmingham and there is literally nothing to do. I’ve added this paragraph after reading a Midnight Resistance piece on the same event which says that the loss of the community focused events, like podcast/website community meet ups, are the real casualty here as no one can meet anymore. There’s no where to have little meet-up events and the lack of those fun, semi-industry meet ups and drinks is a real shame. As someone who runs and owns a site in the same vein, I heartily agree, and there’s never going to be any convenience for sites like us to arrange a meet-up, and we’ll never have the finances to independently arrange it. Obviously you can’t blame Gamer Network for this, this is their event for their brands. But that’s another conversation for another time.

Before I go on to the more positive sides, I do have some very practical niggles about the venue itself. The N.E.C. is a veritable maze of oversized airport-esque craziness. That’s not a problem as long as you adequately signpost where the heck you are going from the station. There was one sign that said which halls it was in, about the size of an A3 poster once you’ve traversed the long concourse from the station. Then there were occasional people pointing you in the right direction. Other events were nicely signposted with cardboard cut outs of Police Officers for the emergency services show pointing you the right way. It was like the event was a dirty afterthought for the conference centre at times. So after getting my press pass, I went to the  Wetherspoons pub in the centre to get a coffee and some breakfast (much needed after a two hour train journey). There was a few people at 9:30a.m. on this Thursday already drinking. Now, I’m not an old fuddy duddy but any alcohol before 10am is only allowed socially if you’re in an airport before going on holiday. This was a family event for video games and if you’re that desperate to have a pint with your mates, then you’re probably not going to have a good time.

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Ok, the event itself was… Alright. I had a few appointments for interviews which basically gave me no chance of playing any game. The EA both is very typically busy at all times but as the event opened, the queue for Star Wars Battlefront was over an hour long. After I finished an interview, it was three hours long. This is the same for pretty much everything with a few exceptions for what is essentially ten minutes of gameplay. This is normal for events of this type but I found myself mostly watching games by looking over the shoulders of those playing. If I had a family and was paying for this, I’d need to meticulously plan this otherwise it would be utterly frustrating. I saw a tweet this morning where someone had listened to the VideoGamer podcast whilst waiting in the queues. It’s a bit silly really.

It’s mostly silly because we’d all hoped the move to a bigger venue would mean that the expo would be… Well, bigger. But most of it only felt bigger in the aisles and walkways. The idea, we all thought, was to allow for more gaming, more fun and ultimately more of an experience. But to be honest, it didn’t really feel like that was the case. Playstation had a rather large and cramped area with two loud presenter type people more obsessed with spinning a prize wheel and garnering attention away from the Xbox stand, who were also shouting rather loudly about their game footage and drawing a crowd in a slightly larger area under the promise of free things. And they weren’t alone with YouTube Gaming doing the same although their streams and content was actually quite good, including the Gamer Network owned teams, along with Cam and Sebby, showing off games with developers and watching footage of games like Total War: Warhammer and people playing Destiny.

The problem is with these events is that the games that are supposed to take centre stage get hidden behind personalities, available space and consumer demand limitations, and the apparently more beneficial longevity of the swag generation. Stick around for this whole presentation and at the end we’ll throw T-Shirts at you. In the case of the YouTube stand, people just appeared at the right time like a sixth sense. If you’ve ever been on a boat or in a harbour where you lean over the edge with some food and suddenly lots of tiny sprats appear like a swarm of locusts in a field… That’s what this is. Maybe I am sounding old here but it’s an atrocious sight to see human beings baying for branded garments for no other reason than them just being there.

The Indie area on the other hand is cramped, busy and interesting. Pretty much like it always is, and if you are more interested in this then EGX Rezzed at Tobacco Docks in London is probably better for you. But it’s fun as long as you can get around it and look at the interesting games there, although having been to many events this year, I’ve seen a lot of the same games over and over again by now. But there are good things to be seen here.

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Then there’s the awesome community around games that really love just going there to see friends and have a good time. Cosplay had a smaller stage this year but it was great to see so many people being involved and enjoying it. The Rock Band 4 stage, compared by our great friends at Xtreme Gaming, was a great interactive and fun experience to get involved with (even though the surrounding people were probably sick of hearing Tribute by Tenacious D so many times). The retro gaming area is always fun and incredibly easy to get on to the old consoles and have some fun as well.

The thing is with this event is that it’s a little too big for what they’re attempting to do. Sure you can go and and have a little shop around as there’s lots to buy, you can even go and get some food and a coffee at a price not too far removed from the previous venue. You can go there and have fun if you’re patient and organised. You can even play the games that aren’t out yet if you want to wait in queues for long enough, or go and discover a gem. But with the game release silly season coming up, the cost of getting and staying in Birmingham (if you are doing multiple days) may not be worth what you get from it. If we can get better deals on travel and accommodation, then this would be a much better proposition than it currently is.

Images taken from Eurogamer and Indigo Pearl’s Twitter Feeds

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Days Out – Legends of Gaming

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In a new, irregular series of features, TheGameJar goes and visits gaming events and lets you know whether or not they’re any good, how much of your wallet you’ll have left and if you’ll enjoy them.

In some ways, I know this isn’t for me. I’m an almost middle-aged guy with no offspring, a professional interest in gaming and a need to find that one perfect piece of merchandise that is casual enough to go on my desk and not look too outrageous (no MGS V Quiet figures here). So as I approach Alexandra Palace, home of the first regular public service broadcast in history, I remember that I’m here to observe and enjoy, not to be a cynical old git.

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Legends of Gaming is a new event put on in conjunction with many people, but GAME is probably the biggest. It’s an event that sees popular YouTube stars battle each other on stage in various different competitions (not for any actually prizes, just for fun and kudos), along with fun interactive things for you to enjoy with your family. Stars such as Ali-A, Syndicate, Ashlee Marie and others all played Minecraft, Call of Duty and other games on the main stage, in between showers of swag and IGN co-hosted CBBC Roadshow style links… You can see why I knew it wasn’t for me.

This is all good though, it was entertaining and I even enjoyed watching the camaraderie between Syndicate and Ali-A as they played a 1v1 paintball mode on Call of Duty Advanced Warfighter. There were several YouTube sponsored stands where people could play games, Syndicate’s had Rocket League and Trials Fusion, that included One Piece Pirate Warriors 3, and The Swindle, along with publisher stands featuring Pro Evo 2016, Metal Gear Solid V, FIFA 16, and LOADS of Nintendo games like Splatoon and Mario Maker. There was also a separate area with a LAN tournament including some Minecraft parkour and FIFA 15 multiplayer.

In fact the weird mix of family entertainment and pseudo pro-gaming was something that felt a bit awkward. There was this mix of adult and kids, families and teenagers, all under a roof best known in recent times for BBC radio gigs and Premier League Darts. The strange mix of mature audiences and families who went along because their children wanted to see their favourite YouTubers highlighted the lack of identity for the event. Keen gamers were obviously intrigued thanks to the YouTube presence and the venue itself is always one that has history but in reality was a bit too small for the scope I think they were trying to achieve. This became even more highlighted with the games as you cannot show or have games that are 18+ rating because this was a family event. Not a massive problem until you realise that a lot of the games were different versions of sports or Minecraft.

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The financial side of me was quite pleased. The tickets were a good price starting at £14 and had several packages including a VIP package that gave you some extra free stuff (swag for the uninitiated). The stage regularly had opportunities to win prizes as well and there were a few competitions going on at the individual stands. So if you’ve got a couple of children, this was a nice day out. The venue isn’t extremely difficult to get to and there’s nice views and other things to do there so there’s something different (along with tables outside to escape you when you inevitably need a pint to de-stress).

In fact that’s one thing that did frustrate me about the venue, inside at least – missed opportunities. As with most gaming events, food was priced at a slightly higher than average mark-up. But there were so little outlets (four in the main arena and one in LAN area and a popcorn stand) that queues were very long and frustrating. As they normally are at events but a few more snack stands and maybe someone roving around with drinks would have alleviated the pressure. There was also very little retail there.

Now this probably sounds stupid as I’m moaning that there wasn’t enough to spend my money on there, but there really wasn’t. There was an incredibly PC biased pop-up GAME store, an official clothing stand, an Independent PC peripherals stand (so well over £50 in each case) and a couple of T-shirts, geeky trinkets and a dogtag/bullet engraving stand. I must say I was tempted by the Back To The Future Sports Almanac in a frame, but if I wanted to spend between £15-20, there wasn’t much there that was gaming focused. Compared to events like EGX and comic conventions, there wasn’t anything that I saw that wowed me to buy it and, whilst lots of people were looking around, I didn’t see many shopping bags. More merchandise would have been welcome, although again this is limited by the available space in the venue.

So once I’d exhausted everything there was to see and decided I wasn’t going to queue for ages for food, I left. I wasn’t sure what exactly I thought of the event though, because whilst it worked for families, I think the mix of people was confusing, which in turn confuses how the event can be received. Who is this event for? As I left, behind me a mother asked their son “did you enjoy Legends of Gaming?” The son, less than ten years old by the sound of his voice said “Yeah! It was great. Can we go next year?” So, in reality, it really doesn’t matter what I think, as long as someone had a good time.

All photos are taken from the Legends of Gaming twitter account, @logtournament.

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EVE’s Virtual Reality is better than your own reality

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The old marketing line of that Xenomorph attacking movie is that “in space, no one can hear you scream.” One of the best things about Virtual Reality is that when you’re in space, EVERYONE can hear you scream – scream like you’re a cross between Marlon Wayans and Ariana Richards. There’s a small part of it that is fear, but mostly it’s crazy, unbridled joy.

From the moment you fit yourself with the Oculus Rift and sit down in the cockpit of your Wraith Mark II fighter, you are amazed and a little bit giddy. Not at the disorientation, but more at the ability to see your limbs as if they were not your own. It’s not exactly out of body because you are in control buy your head turning and looking at all of these things, but still, it does a good thing of immediately displacing your own reality and dropping you directly in to the fiction.

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And drop it does. In the most fun parts of our science fiction movie history, we get launched from a tube like the best of our Battlestar Galactica/Star Wars fantasies at a terrific velocity and in to the rather crowded arena of our fleet in deep space. This of course leads to an incredibly space battle which sees you wildly flipping your head around (that from the outside must look like it’s going to fall off), desperately searching for that enemy in some excellent dogfighting. Add in to that Katee Sackhoff doing voiceover content, customisable ships and also the potential of Sony’s Project Morpheus, and you’ve got me sold.

This is the experience I took away from my time with EVE Valkyrie whilst at Gamescom. You can see the video below which is the same demo I experienced (although from the eyes of CCP) and it was also my first proper experience of VR gaming. I know, what a fool I’ve been to miss out. But I’ve always had a quiet respect and fear of EVE. It’s a game I’m sure I would absolutely love but the difficult learning arc, deep fiction and incredibly dedicated community can make it very daunting. However, I believe that Valkyrie can change that.

The great thing that CCP have done over the years is find a way to make their product, not only more appealing but more accessible to people like me. People like me who sit on the fence and haven’t been able to go further than dipping a toe. Because, let’s be honest, giant space MMORPG isn’t everyone’s cup of team. But giant virtual reality space dogfighting is. CCP have often tried to look outside of their own box, the PlayStation network game DUST 514 being a prime example (with an first person shooter that crossover over with the online play of EVE) to take the franchise away from its PC roots and expand to a console, attracting a new audience. The comic book series, EVE: True Stories is really interesting too, delivering the House of Cards-esque economic and political intrigue of actual situations in a narrative discourse with the fall of the Band of Brothers.

So it should be no surprise that the current four year development of EVE Valkyrie with the new VR technology is doing new things and pushing the envelope. If you’ve used the Oculus Rift then you’ll know that the only criticisms have been based on delivering a resolution like current monitors can and the power of the system that will be needed to power it come consumer release. But as far as the game goes, it is absolutely fantastic. But the CCP VR journey doesn’t end there either.

EVE: Gunjack is the upcoming launch title for the Samsung Gear VR, a VR headset add-on for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. You stick your phone in the front of the Oculus developed peripheral and you’re good to go. Gunjack, developed on the Unreal 4 Engine looks absolutely excellent given the spec of the tech and and the scope it is going for. You get an incredibly similar scope of vision like you with Valkyrie but without the ship movement so it’s a lot more static. The best way to describe is is that it’s a one button shooter (the button is on the side of your headset) whilst you are in a fixed turret attacking the oncoming waves of enemies. It’s very similar to games like Space Harrier and Child of Eden with oncoming enemies in various formations with power ups abound. It’s a simple concept (perfect for mobile gaming) with a one button control (also perfect for mobile gaming) and is playable with or without the Gear VR. It also comes across very well and is just the right amount of casual for the concept and for the technology.

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Virtual Reality is constantly being touted as the future of gaming. I’ve heard it from developers, publishers, technology journalists, a random guy in a pub who frequents many business shows to sell things… By this point you’ve probably heard it from your dog in a moment of existential mania. But the problem of course has been how slow the technology has taken to get in to the consumers hands and with content for it. Just look at how 3D failed to take advantage of anything in this regard. VR however has been worked on for many years, between b-movie horror in The Lawnmower Man to crazy full body experiences. EVE has an appeal beyond it’s core online subscribers because, even if we don’t understand it or can access it, most gamers who have heard about it are secretly really interested in what’s happening in there. Whilst Valkyrie and Gunjack both give a bigger platform for exposure, they’re success will be that they’ve made it easier for more people to feel like a part of the universe.

Headset or not, one button or a controller, or a fully beefed up PC or a mobile phone, that’s what I took from playing the games. I took the connection that I’ve probably lusted for since first letting my subscription to EVE Online slip, and enjoyed every second of it. If you’re going to any conventions or shows over the rest of the year, I implore you to go and try it and see if, like me, this is the way to satisfy your EVE craving.

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All The Best Game Music Is On SoundCloud

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You know this probably sounds like a self explanatory title, but if you haven’t ever heard of SoundCloud it is a streaming music site that is used by a lot of unsigned bands and DJ’s/Composers to showcase their talents. Those can be original songs, remixes, podcasts and anything in between.

But it’s also home to a lot of excellent and beautiful music from our beloved video games. Many developers have released songs to stream on the site and Playstation also have a great load of game music on their page as well. In fact, you can find a lot of publishers, developers and composers who have released their game music on SoundCloud. No longer are iTunes or Spotify the only places you can find these gems of video game composition. So just to be a bit of debate starter I’m going to list some of the favourites that I’ve found, my personal highlights if you will, and if you have anymore then please link them and share.

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Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture promised many things and it has delivered on them so far. One of these things was a beautiful soundtrack. Composed by Jessica Curry and James Morgan, Dust and Shadow is just one of the haunting choral and orchestral melodies that you will here in the game.

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Max Payne’s dark, disturbing and melancholic theme is one thing that has stuck throughout the series. There is a great communication in the soundtrack to a game sometimes that perfectly portrays the world and character. This version of the cello theme from Max Payne 3’s composers HEALTH is one of the most haunting versions.

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Ok so this is a bit of a cop out but it is on there and I challenge you to find a better game that so brilliantly uses the leitmotif in this theme and throughout game. Gustavo Santaolalla is a magnificent composer and, like all good entertainment, his score is one vital part of a great big experience.

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I’ve put this here because it is a wonderful score in general. The darkness of Mordor and the lore that precedes the green prettiness of JRR Tolkein’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is here in abundance. It is also is co-composed by Nathan Grigg and Garry Schyman, the latter name you might know from the Bioshock series.

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Long live Tangerine Dream. Edgar Froese’s music is one of the great things that glues Grand Theft Auto together. His electronic progressive rock that mixed with experimental soundscapes gave us an excellent connection between three otherwise distant and different characters. Whilst the music featured on Grand Theft Auto is some of the best popular music in recent years, the music OF Grand Theft Auto is also some of the best composed music.

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Here we go on a bit of a love letter to Devolver Digital, but we said in our review of Titan Souls that one of the things that really binds the feeling of loneliness in the game is the music, expertly composed by David Fenn. The inspirations behind this are easily recalled which is a testament to how well the music has captured the genre and respected those that came before it.

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Are you kidding me? Of course we’re going to have some Hotline Miami on here. In fact the entire soundtrack to the first game is available on Devolver’s page and is perfect for a Friday afternoon countdown to the weekend.

There are some great selections from Hotline Miami 2 as well. These two are my personal favourites but you should definitely look them up yourself.

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Here’s a more fantasy based game with The Witcher 3. Polish composer Marcin Przybylowicz’s soundtrack (featuring Percival) is a brilliant achievement and as many of the games journalists on the internet will testify to, a great part of an even greater game. You’ll also find some select cuts from The Witcher 2’s soundtrack on his page as well.

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I make no bones about the fact that the Halo soundtracks are some of my favourites. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Halo 3: ODST soundtrack in the past. But if you asked me to choose one song from it all, it would be Unforgotten, or as the rerecorded Halo 2 Anniversary edition version is named “Unforgotten Memories”. It is a wonderful theme that repeats itself throughout the second and third games, along with the inspired change of tact from the more well known gregorian monk chanting. But for good measure I’ve included that below along with some riffing guitar too.

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E3 2015: Bethesda Recap

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As far as debut’s go, this is probably one that will live long in the memory for all of the right reasons. Bethesda took a giant leap to the stage at E3 (at the Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars, no less) with an already impressive level of hype.

Doom, whilst teased last year to select convention attendees and an extra three second clip last month, was very obviously going to be on the agenda. Fallout 4 was also going to be hotly anticipated and late on Saturday some leaks began to appear for Dishonoured 2 thanks to some tech-testing fluffs. But we had no idea (which is actually quite a thing in this day and age) of what was going to happen.

Doom was first out of the blocks and it did not disappoint at all. iD Software have been incredibly quiet since RAGE and lost their lead guru John Cormack to another reality. But that doesn’t seem to have dampened the original core concept of Doom or its successors – over the top, gory violence. It’s a simple concept really, to just kill all the things in a outlandish manner with big guns, but it’s very rarely executed well (pun intended).

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We saw some excellent melee attacks including a guy having his face smashed in by his own, still attached, broken leg. We saw some fantastically smooth gunplay and weapon selection and some fast and fluid movement. The things that made games like this and Quake excellent is the fast frenetic pace of the games that heighten the excitement, the fear and the adrenalin of the game, and Doom looks to have it in abundance. We were treated to a very well lit and molten factory level set on Mars which seems to have channeled all the tropes of horror science fiction with the cinematographic flair of more recent times, including a good Red Dwarf-esque mobile hand passkey that got a good laugh. We were then treated to Hell with demons coming at us from all sides and the final shot of a BFG volley cutting to black.

The most interesting thing in this is what looks like the first Next Generation console level editor. A simple tool to snap rooms and place objects to create your own levels and game types for multiplayer. Think of Halo’s Forge but with much easier room placement. This is Doom Snapmap and it looks excellent for the creative people and modders that have always been key to the franchise’s extended success. It’s something that will certainly breathe a lot of life in to multiplayer and is a great way to get people to stay involved. Especially on the console market as the game will be coming on PC, Xbox One and PS4 in Spring 2016.

Keeping with the online focus, Battlecry announced an upcoming beta. The online team based combat strategy game looks like a crazy cross between Team Fortress and a non-fantasy MOBA. It’ll be interesting to see but we’ll have to wait until the beta’s have come before we get more of an idea on the game.

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Next up was the team from Arkane Studios, who’s Dishonored completely took the critics and gamers by surprise a few years ago. Now it’s most definitely back with you being put in to the position of Corvo once again… Or you can play as the daughter of the Empress, Emily Kaldwin. This is what we were shown and it’s great to have a new female protagonist to play with. The steam punk setting is well and truly alive with some focus on the high flying speed running and magical abilities, in a totalitarian world of death and decay.

If you’re worried about playing Dishonored 2 because you missed the boat, never fear. Arkane are releasing a collected edition of Dishonored this winter with some new textures and all the DLC. This Definitive Edition is coming for PC, Xbox One and PS4… I’ll be honest, I’m very excited for it and of all the ideas I had for a remaster (if you can call it that) Dishonored was not the one I was expecting to hear from at this conference.

Another game I wasn’t expecting to hear anything about was the recently released Elder Scrolls Online, but we got a nice little video of some new areas coming to Tamriel Unlimited on both PC and Console and we’ve also been treated to a new card game call Elder Scrolls Legends (Presumably “Scrolls” was taken by someone else?), although we’ve seen nothing of it. I was also hoping to see or at least hear some news of the other Bethesda franchises like Quake and The Evil Within, but we just got their logos at the end. At least they’re still there and more may come in future.

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Speaking of the future, ready your Pip Boys. I could talk to you a lot about Fallout 4 but you should just watch the conference from 1 hour and 5 minutes in. Returning to the Wasteland, you will walk the area of Boston with your companion Dog and do as you’ve always done – explore, fight and customise. You’ll start your story pre-bombs which give a little tongue in cheek look at the psuedo-1950s lifestyle and create your character. This looks incredibly as the old style of sliders and templates have disappeared. Instead you just select the part of the face you want and just play away, regardless of gender (hurray!). You’ll wake up 200 years later as the sole survivor and are set free to explore. No spoilers.

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The customisation is incredible though, from very specific parts of guns to your heavy armour set, clothing and even building your own settlement, Fallout 4 looks to be far and away the best open world role-playing game in terms of player individuality. Creating a world to you, the player that you have affected seems to be one of the things that Fallout 4 is bringing out, which is something the other hinted to. But the technology is now here to make it happen.

Speaking of technology, the Pip Boy is updated to be more than just a static menu (as the developers know you’ll spend a lot of time there) and has become a lot more dynamic. You’ll also be able to interchange memory tapes for audio and even games. We’ve seen a good version of both Donkey Kong and Missile Command in the demo (the latter is increidbly appropriate) and there’s a lot more to come. Especially if you’ve got your eyes on the collectors edition that includes a working Pip Boy… Well sort of. This soon to be gold dust peripheral is a wearable phone dock that allows you (with a free app) to use the whole thing as a second screen and be your Pip Boy access. The app is coming anyway so anyone can do it, but having your own Pip Boy as you play? Well that’s just swell. We also have the Sims/XCom/Tiny Tower-esque Fallout Shelter. A fun little distracting building game where you become the overseer of your own vault, released for free last night on iOS.

Bethesda didn’t show a lot but truthfully they didn’t need to. It was a lesson in how a company can show a minimal amount of products but with a huge amount of quality. All of it coming for next generation consoles and PC. All of it absolutely captivating. Sometimes you just need to do a good job and in their debut to E3’s conference schedule, Bethesda certainly nailed it.

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Rock Band 4 – Preview

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It wasn’t actually that long ago that I put down Rock Band 3. It was probably about six months ago after I had an aching need to complete The Beatles Rock Band (something I’d forgotten I’d already done). I then went in to the old habit of looking through songs and making a playlist of mostly Pearl Jam songs and rocking out a bit, whilst getting frustrated that my well worn guitar was betraying me.

Where as many games press have stories of Rock Band and the preview party we’ve all attended over the past week, mine is slightly different. I was a musician for many years. Now I’m a non-practicing musician, but at the time I was (trying to remain as humble as possible) a damn good bassist who’d gone from fronting a cover band to being a bassist in a rather fast and riff frenetic punk-grunge band.

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This movement to our awesome power trio removed a lot of the covers we had previously played. This led to Rock Band, and others, being my escape to just having a bit of fun with songs I loved. Thankfully, I was joined in this by my drummer and some other friends that has led to many drunk nights, parties and a mysteriously broken drum kit foot pedal (we all know who broke it really).

So why did we fall out of love with the game? Well, we didn’t really fall out of it, did we? We just moved on. The market got so saturated with spin offs to other music types that it became a bit of a joke. When everyone started doing the karaoke games we kind of moved away because it was no longer just “our” thing.

Our guitars and controllers through years of aggressive use were beginning to fail and we just didn’t want to spend a load of money to upgrade them. The DLC flooded our Xbox Live and PSN screens making it frustrating to find anything else released on the same day. We all moved to smaller places… Put simply, life happened and we had said goodbye to the rhythm game genre without even an epitaph.

Which is quite convenient as both Activision and Harmonix are sure that it isn’t dead. So sure in fact that both companies are releasing new games: Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4. The former has taken quite a dramatic turn from its previous incarnations but Rock Band is sticking with exactly what it knows. So on Monday, me and our friends from Xtreme Gaming and Xtreme Academy took to the stage and rocked out… Here I am, right there, strumming and drumming.

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Like an old friend we had met in the pub for a nostalgic beverage, we instantly found where we were and got right back to embarrassing Dad-level party rocking in front of our peers. That is because Rock Band 4 is sticking very rigidly with what it knows, almost to a point where it looks that very little has changed whatsoever. The next generation graphics help to better animate the backgrounds going on, but the basic design is the same – square notes to hit, overdrive accumulation and deployment, vocals on top with guitar, drums and bass on the screen on scrolling towards you.

The obvious thing to say is “why change anything if it works,” which it does. The team behind Rock Band 4 are the same team that it’s always been with years of experience from Guitar Hero to the many Rock Band releases and making little tinkering adjustments each time to perfect the formula. The main thing for Harmonix’s perspective is to make sure that the gaming experience is as fun as it’s always been.

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So we have a new next generation engine, which is in alpha build, a load of new and more refined peripherals coming along with support for all of the previous ones released on the last generation with some, and I quote, “gnarly engineering” to make the Xbox 360 stuff work with the Xbox One.

The game will have a voting system so that playlists can be dynamic and you aren’t just lumped with someone like me putting on every Pearl Jam song. The dynamic system for drum fills and the like is more refined and the vocals now become freestyle, so that even if it isn’t your strong point you won’t be punished like you would have before.

There is a lot of focus on backward compatibility with the song library from Rock Band 1, 2, 3, etc, and DLC being mostly available (thanks to a few licensing issues, it isn’t everything). If you had them all on the previous console then you can get them again for free. Xbox 360 to Xbox One and PS3 to PS4, but not across the platforms it seems. That’s 2000 odd songs, TWO THOUSAND… Better make some hard drive space available for that one.

Rock Band and Harmonix are looking to make the transition to next generation as painless as possible and because of this, Rock Band 4 we’ve been told will be the only release for this generation. The improvements and digital ability to patch the games whenever the team want means that they will be adding new content and constantly evolving the game via this method. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s stuck to, given the theories on the projected lifespan of this generation of consoles.

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This is all happening thanks to the further development between Harmonix and Mad Catz. For Rock Band 3, Mad Catz actually made the official controllers and this time they’re also acting as publisher for the game, making a long partnership a lot more solid. We need to see more, as the game is scheduled for a 2015 release, from the engine, the new controllers and the soundtrack. We would like to see the new consoles actually hitting a higher frame rate and really tackle any latency.

What we want to see and what we have seen is fun. The same fun as we had before, the same well-tried and enjoyable formula that kept us all occupied with our impressive fourth button skills in the late 00s until YouTube showed us how much we truly sucked at the game. Music has changed though and the younger people (which normally translates to the best sales) of today probably won’t feel like the frustrated musicians we all did at the time.

Our decision on if we buy this game will be a mixture of the desire to experience nostalgia and if we can justify buying the equipment again if we sold it. It’s probably not a great time to release a game that can require spending £120 on equipment alone (although eBay, Amazon’s marketplace and Gumtree/Craigslist will become hunting grounds for good deals on old controllers).

Right now, the frustrated musician in me is going to put on Green Grass and High Tides and see if I can fix my broken bass-drum pedal. Then we can talk business on Xbox One and PS4 later this year.

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WWE Network – Review

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This week is wrestling week at TheGameJar. Which means we’ve asked all our writers to share memories of wrestling games past and present. Today, instead of a game, Sean looks at an app which is making a lot of noise and gaining a lot of subscribers.

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The WWE Network app certainly has made a big impact since finally releasing in the UK. It’s also something that a lot of people have asked me about since subscribing. Is it worth it? What’s on it? Is it just all the new rubbish? Well we thought we’d answer that for you. If you watch WWE at all then you cannot escape the rhetoric of constant promotion and advertising on its programming. There are a lot of good things about it, but the one that’s made the most headlines is the lack of quality in the current product (see the 2015 Royal Rumble match). I can’t argue that, but there’s a great deal that’s excellent.

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[Current WWE NXT Champion Kevin Owens, who is making the Powerbomb a feared move again.]

Firstly there’s WWE NXT, which had been on Sky Sports before now. It’s a developmental brand for WWE that has transcended its status to become a bit of a cult hit. One hour focused on new and great wrestling talent, without the storyline flack that the two big shows seem to be filled with. The divas get a proper wrestling outing too, showcasing the talent the WWE has in its wings for the future, and talent that will be very familiar for those who follow the independent promotions where a lot of these wrestlers cut their teeth.

In fact it’s the lack of the two big shows on the network that’s the most disappointing. There isn’t the big back catalogue of Raw and Smackdown that there could be. For all of the 1000 odd shows that there are of Raw, there’s not even a tenth of it on there. Same goes for Smackdown. There’s no Sunday Night The list can go on There are probably reasons for this and some things are slowly being brought out, like WCW Monday Nitro. But there isn’t even a hint at almost a decade’s worth of television, which is very disappointing. Although there’s lots of classic WWE like Tuesday Night Titans, Prime Time Wrestling and Saturday Night’s Main Event.

The thing is, you’d need to be quite the wrestling boffin to want and know of these things. What WWE Network does really well is its Pay-Per-View content, it’s highlighting of classic and brilliant wrestling and its in depth look at some of the greatest stars we’ve had. WWE has produced some excellent, if not incredibly biased, looks at the careers of many wrestlers, factions and promotions.

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[Great shows like Legends of Wrestling show that smoking cigars is very cool.]

Everything from former stars like The Hardy brothers to recent Triple H documentaries, all with interviews from many people. Stand out ones include a look at Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Paul Heyman, both creative geniuses and arguably the greatest managers in the history of the genre. There’s some great specials from the vaults like the Legends of Wrestling roundtable chats which seem to be filled with lots of smoking… Seriously, everyone smokes in WWE apparently. There’s the excellent looks at now defunct promotions like ECW, WCW and AWA although again with a WWE bias. In fact one of the standout things, although stretched out over a full season it can get a bit repetitive, is the documentary of the Monday Night War. The television ratings battle between WWE (WWF at the time) and WCW which ushered in a golden age of wrestling and the Attitude era that we all remember so fondly.

The hardcore wrestling fans might be a bit disappointed at the occasional editing due to licensing purposes like music and the very fine cuts of events that we all love. But credit to WWE, it hasn’t been shy in putting tricky content out there. One former wrestler in particular is included in programming which is good as before terrible events, he was an excellent wrestler and is part of sports entertainment history. There are many disclaimers before most of the content that isn’t PG programming or programming they created themselves.

Technically the app on every console works very well. I’ve tested it on Xbox One, PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360. In fact the worst iteration of the app I’ve tested is the iPad version which also doubles as the generic WWE app for news. Although I’ve never had a problem finding content, everything is laid out in an easy to find manner, the quality of the streaming is excellent and very rarely drops and the PlayStation versions of the app include nice little chapter points to fast forward easily to specific matches. Why the Xbox version doesn’t have these I have no idea, because it really should.

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[Still my personal favourite Wrestling/Alan Partridge crossover.]

What this app does do is allow us to relieve what we loved as young people in the big and special nights. We can go back and watch Mick Foley being thrown off the cell. We can revisit the real Icon vs. Icon matches like Rock vs. Hogan and Ric Flair vs. Harley Race. We can look at those matches we never see nowadays like the hardcore matches, the first One Night Stand events and most of the ECW back catalogue and the original Hardyz vs. Edge and Christian ladder match. We can all relive our WrestleMania moments again and, thanks to the great value, you can watch all the new ones too without having to pay Sky £15 every time for just one show.

Whilst this can be for the purist, it’s great if you have young family members who are fans but can’t afford a Sky subscription or Pay-Per-View costs. It’s parental controls stop most things you don’t want them to see and you can relieve your best memories. Faces you’ve likely forgotten and ones that have never left you. Yes, there is a lot of content that is missing but arguably, a lot that’s missing isn’t worth being put on or is coming. Except for the huge gap in Raw and Smackdown replays, WWE Network hits the right button for fans of wrestling and those guys who remember what things used to be like.

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