It was ten years ago that I did two things for the first time in my life that I have never done since. The first, I booked a day off work to coincide with the release of a new game and the second, I attended a midnight launch. To some this might seem like an odd thing to do, but I imagine most people reading this have been there, done that, bought and in some instances worn the merchandise.

The game that caused me to take these drastic steps was non-other than Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) by Rockstar. I always try to avoid the hype train with games, but when the game in question was going to be the latest entry in the widely successful GTA series it was one train I felt compelled to board. After the mammoth success of the GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas during the sixth generation of consoles the franchise had not only become a recognisable and controversial brand, but a highly selling series one too. The series selling 60 million copies between Playsation 2 (PS2) and Xbox during the sixth generation. Like the latest Marvel, Star Wars or James Bond film, GTA was now immortalised as an event. The annual success of each new game would pave the way for the annualisation of future franchises like Call of Duty and Assassins Creed.

The new game would take the best elements from the PS2 / Xbox era, marry it with a new engine, high definition graphics and give players a chance to return to the most famous city in gaming; Liberty City. Rockstar would allow the game to percolate in an attempt to create the definitive GTA experience. They released mood trailers months apart to whet our appetites giving gamers a glimpse into what the upcoming entry had to offer. The initial reveal introduced a new protagonist; Niko “perhaps here things will be different” Bellic who seeks to leave his criminal past behind and start anew in Liberty City. While the American Dream is high on trope-scale, it does seem fitting; a new console, a new game, a new protagonist, a new start. Only time would tell how truly different things would be.

At my local Game I waited patiently to collect my reserve copy for the midnight launch on 29th April 2008, enjoying the carnival atmosphere with fellow gamers keen to get home and delve into Rockstar’s latest offering. When I finally returned home in the early hours of the morning I booted up the game, my excitement levels were at fever pitch. After the initial opening cutscene I guided the new protagonist to his cousins Roman’s apartment. That night I played for a little bit more, slowly exploring the reimagined Liberty City. The original belief that Niko was in Liberty City to live the American Dream is proven not to be the case, as we find out he was betrayed by a fellow army colleague during the Yugoslav Wars and is seeking revenge for this deception.

The character of Niko is well written and performed, his deeply harrowing backstory rooted in the Yugoslav Wars of 1990s Europe is handed with care throughout. His actions and need for closure leave him with little choice but to flee to Liberty City in order to end his misery and pain. The ensemble cast, the sights and sounds of Liberty City and the mission variety would lead GTA IV to top games charts for many months, with the game selling north of 25 million copies worldwide. Despite the technical advancements of the seventh generation of consoles; the graphical advances and richly detailed open world, I found myself losing interest in Niko’s journey. I became increasingly irritated by the constant calls from Niko’s friends, interrupting the ebb and flow of the experience with requests for bowling and drinking activities. Despite the innovations over previous titles, I felt that the game had not reached the heady heights of previous GTA games. Perhaps the game could never live up to the enormous hype, my disappointment being a by-product of unrealistic expectations. My Stockholm syndrome-like tendencies with regard to ‘hype’ would return for the 2015 release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but that is a story for another time.

Fast forward ten years and I have just returned home after collecting a second hand Playstation 3 (PS3) with Red Dead Redemption for a steal at only £40. In the days that followed I pick up the Metal Gear Solid HD collection, Max Payne 3 and after listening to Cane and Rinse No.75 (again) I decide that another trip to Liberty City is required. Like Niko I too have unfinished business to attend to.

The return to the sixth generation of consoles was a consequence of the ever-increasing sameness of current gen fodder. The advances in graphical fidelity this generation can’t be denied. Gone are the various shades of brown of the PS3 and Xbox360 era and instead our eyes are awash with the colour palette of 1080P, HDR and 4K visuals. In unison we all find ourselves as the gaming equivalent of Alice walking through the door of Wonderland to bask in the pixelated perfection of Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War and Assassins Creed: Origins. But something is increasingly evident even as I not only play these games and watch trailers for upcoming titles, these titles all feel, look and play like a ‘modded’ version of each other. From the position of the camera, the HUD set-up, the movement of the protagonist, it is like I am playing the same game over-and-over-again, simply reskinned.

Having listened to enough retrospective reviews of games I have played, it was time for me to relive my past experiences and see if an older, wiser me (ha!) would have a different perspective. I loaded my pristine copy of GTA IV and like Niko I waited to see what Liberty City had in store for me. Immediately I was transported back to 2008 when Michael Hunter’s ‘The Soviet Connection’ theme kicks in. I marvel at the opening scenes; the camera direction, the creative use of credit font, the perfect synthesis of music score and the unfolding drama. Rockstar have always been masterful in setting the tone in the opening moments of their games, GTA IV is no exception. Crime, sexual perversion, PTSD, immigration and cultural identity are all touched on in under ten minutes.

This is no mean feat, most narrative driven games can barely deliver one theme with competence, let alone several within the time it takes to boil an egg. After I reunite with my inebriated cousin Roman and call him out for forgetting his mother tongue, I hop behind the wheel of his car and drive to my new residence. Despite a decade away these early hours in GTA IV are very vivid in my memory, intrinsically linked to the uniqueness of its purchase.

Despite this familiarity, it is like I am playing the game for the first time. The impact I should have felt then is being felt now. Returning to these early hours in Liberty City so many years later make me appreciate the ambition of Rockstar and their attention to detail in their latest playground. Whether it is the smoke emanating from sewer grates in the road, flies circling overflowing rubbish bins in side streets, or the sound design with pedestrians offering their two cents and the different soundtracks being played by passing vehicles, the city is living breathing organism.

The urban design of this opening island is impressive. The architecture of the Broker and Dukes is well researched, capturing the urban landscapes of Brooklyn and Queens. Despite having never visited either, with only tv and film as my frame of reference as I amble around the brownstone terraced homes and low-rise apartment blocks I am overcome with a feeling of the strangely familiar.

As I reach Algonquin, the game’s version of Manhattan, and it is here that the game really takes off. The island is laid out more in the form of a grid structure, less organic and earthy than Dukes, Broker and Bohan and is enveloped in by an over-engineered network of roads. Some of the open greenspace in Algonquin does offer an escape from the claustrophobic architecture of the city skyline. I lose myself as I explore the sights and sounds of Easton (East Village), Purgatory (Hell’s Kitchen) The Triangle (Midtown Manhattan) and Star Junction (Times Square). Like a tourist I am constantly refreshing my map to find my way. But much like any time spent in a new environment, after a short while I find myself recognising landmarks, Star Junction, Middle Park (Central Park) and Rotterdam Tower (Empire State Building). These icons become wayfinding tools in this congested metropolis acting as a calming reassurance in the fast-paced nature of life in Liberty City.

The sights, sounds and smells of Liberty City (Rockstar Games) Picture via: @davidrushe

The inclusion of a choice system in the game giving players the ability to decide the destiny of several non-playable characters during the story is a welcome addition. Players can choose the fate of key characters such as; Playboy X, Dwayne, Clarence, Francis, Derrick or Ivan, making me feel like I partaking in an open world Telltale Games experience. The outcome of these decisions do not hinder the development of the story, they have no impact on trophies or achievements, instead they make me feel that I truly am Niko.

My agency in opting to retain whatever empathy is left in Niko’s soul could not be underestimated. It is at this point in my time in Algoquin that I embark on the infamous bank job; ‘Three Leaf Clover’ with my latest crime buddy; Packie McReary and his extended crime family. It is the most sophisticated mission by far within the game. The structure of the mission and actions required in carrying out the robbery of the Bank of Liberty are a wonderful example of Rockstar balance the choreographed set pieces and the creative thinking of the player engagement in the open world sandbox to accomplish the mission.

It is the stand-out mission in the game, mature, well designed, overflowing with humour of writers Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries and is unlike the game’s other fetch quest-like missions. The success of ‘Three Leaf Clover’ would form the foundation for the structure of missions in GTA V.

The standout ‘Three Leaf Clover’ mission with Niko and the McReary family (Rockstar Games) Picture via: @davidrushe

The final area to unlock in the game is Alderny City. It is the game’s attempt to represent New Jersey. By my reckoning its inclusion is a step-to-far taken by the developer. Given the real-world proximity of New York and New Jersey I understand the urge to include it, but the final land mass you unlock doesn’t introduce anything we haven’t already seen earlier in the game. While the Alderny State Correctional Facility features in the development of the end game narrative, and the surrounding Actor Industrial Park features in a few missions, it is at this juncture where the games pacing starts to slow. Alderny City, like many of the latter missions is filler.

Rockstar should have focused the player’s freedom to the boroughs of Bohan, Broker, Dukes and Algonquin. These locations are very detailed environment with a real sense of life and vibrancy, Alderny adds nothing to the wonderful recipe that Rockstar prepared for us to consume. Instead its inclusion is the equivalent of one side-dish too many ordered, with only a few bites taken and little flavour, the dish like me is left to go cold.

While Alderny doesn’t ruin my experience completely, it does detract from what was a wonderful re-experience for me. In most open world games, fatigue usually kicks in somewhere within the midgame experience. Attempting to strike a balance in progressing the story and allowing the open world toolbox to test the limits of the player’s imagination, is one that no developer in my experience has perfected to date. Ubisoft have in recent years created many wonderful open world environments; The Division, numerous Assassins Creed and Far Cry titles coming closer and closer to striking this elusive balance. But Ubisoft’s obsession with their icon, collectable and side-quest filled maps is their ultimate undoing.

The strongest selling point of any open world design is one where player agency is held supreme, but this lack of linearity and developer led curation is also its biggest weakness. In the context of GTA IV the inclusion of Alderny flips this on its head, the feeling of fatigue for me crept in as the game approaches what should be the most anticipated part of the game, the conclusion.

As the game begins to conclude Niko’s traitor is exposed. I opt to spare the life of Darko Brevic, Niko’s former army colleague of who betrayed him and his unit by accepting $1000 for their lives in order to feed Darko’s drug addiction. When I confronted Darko I found a man forever tormented by both his demons of substance abuse and the guilt of his actions. In choosing to spare his life I believed it was the right thing to do.

Having spent tens of hours with Niko I realised that despite with his inherent darkness and rage, his compassion for his cousin was evidence of empathy. Whatever goodness remained in this flawed person was worth salvaging. To kill Darko would not change Niko’s past, instead his present and future would be forever tainted by murdering his former colleague. My brief time with Darko confirmed this was the right route to take as it was not my place to punish his actions, his miserable existence was punishment enough.

The final act of the game was once again to give Niko the choice in how to deal the with second antagonist of the game, Jimmy Pegorino. Unlike my decision to take the high road with Darko, I opted to take the ‘Revenge’ path with Jimmy instead of taking the ‘Deal’. This was in part formed by my memory of the previous playthrough in 2008 and how ‘Revenge’ would see a happy ending for the much maligned Roman. The consequence of this action would see Niko’s date Kate McReary (Packie’s sister) being gunned down outside the church immediately after Roman and Malarie’s nuptials. I choose the lesser of two evils. After I complete my final mission and the credits role I find myself marooned on Happiness Island (Ellis Island) in the shadow of the Statue of Happiness (Statue of Liberty) and I feel that I have given Niko a chance to be finally be at peace.

Revenge a dish best served with an AK47 (Rockstar Games) Picture via: @davidrushe

As the sun begins to set I look back to the artificially lit skyline of Algonquin, like Niko, I too am at peace. My return to Liberty City after all this time has given me a newfound perspective and appreciation for this place. My view of this flawed creation is ultimately renewed by the goodness deep within and much like life itself, the empathy I preserved in Niko offers hope.

I can now say with great certainty, that this time, things were different.


In the spirit of Kojima abandoning the career defining exposition and embracing brevity, I will endeavour to deliver a “review” that surmises my experience playing Metal Gear Solid 5 The Phantom Pain (MGSVTPP) in a concise manner.

The game picks up straight after the events of Ground Zeroes (GZ), delivering a beautiful, cinematic experience with the most fluid control ever seen in an Metal Gear Solid game, period. But much like GZ, this experience is sort lived. The broader experience of MGSVTPP is that of an incomplete, incoherent mess.

Konami have come in for criticism for allegations of mistreatment of employees, apparently firing Kojima and his team and blatant mishandling of their franchises; Castlevania, Silent Hill(s) and now Metal Gear. They are deserving of criticism but so too is Kojima. Having played The Phantom Pain (TPP) for over 80 hours I can honestly say that Kojima did drop the ball. The shear volume of repetition, vast open worlds with little content or variety and a story so ill structured and poorly told, it is clear that Hideo was out of his depth on TPP.

He clearly mismanaged his teams time and the budget. While I don’t love Konami, you can understand their reasons for stepping in and setting a September 1st 2015 realese date, much to the detriment of the end product. Since the release of MGS2 back in 2001 sales of the series have fallen, from an estimated 6 million for Metal Gear Solid 2 (MGS2) falling to an estimated 2 million for 2010’s Peace Walker. After 5 years and a budget said to be in the region of $80 million, Konami decided time was up on Kojima’s oft mooted opus.

Konami’s decision to release earlier than Kojima most likely desired, is evidence that Kojima spent too much time building the game up on social media and not enough time delivering on his earlier promises. Promises on “the ultimate Metal Gear”, dealing with controversial topics, taboo subjects and delivering something that had never been done before in video games. All of this is absent from TPP.

Many clamber online for clues to missing content, an illusive Chapter 3 hidden somewhere in game file awaiting to be woken from a coma akin to Big Boss himself. As much as I hope the efforts of the dataminers and theorists on the NeverBeGameOver thread on Reddit yield results, I fear their efforts are in vain. The game is missing parts like the protagonist, and as Kojima walks away from the Metal Gear universe, we must move on too.

It is clear now looking back at the first few reveal trailers that the story was resolved at an early stage. With principle cinematic and narrative cutscene work complete, it begs the question what was he doing for the last few years? I am a fanboy for the series, I love all the games for various reasons, and while I am not unaware of the imperfections of past titles, I am far from a Kojima apologist.

MGSV’s gameplay, presentation and scope of ambition are excellent and admirable, but the game is unbalanced and it is clearly incomplete. The open world (two areas in total) are beautiful to look at but are barren in terms of content and variety of things to do. Where are the set pieces and beautifully detailed environments that made past titles so captivating and tense? I am tired of finding wandering Mother Base soldiers, clearing mines and extracting prisoners. Quantity does not equal quality.

In the clamber for open world mass market appeal Kojima fultoned his expertise in linear prefection. The side ops are repetitive, the story is poorly structured with the final truth (which I loved) came out of nowhere with no build up. For all the heat that the demo Ground Zeroes garnered it is a more structured, composed and complete package. I don’t condone derision of artistic endeavours but The Phantom Pain is an unmitigated mess and is more devisive than MGS2, but this time for all the wrong reasons. A case of quantity over quality.

The early promise tastes sweet, but the flavour soon dissolves into a bitter taste that will linger long. A sad not to end 28 years of Metal Gear. I’m off to play Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, who is coming to join me?


We should work for simple, good, undecorated things…but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.”

Alvar Aalto, speech in London 1957.

Always credit © Nico Saieh as author of these photographs

“First of all when it comes to female characters I myself am male, so in a way you can say the female characters I create are my ideal. It’s kind of my fantasy, these are the type of female characters that I like, so that’s what I make.”

Hideo Kojima, BAFTA Annual Games Lecture 2012

Back in December of 2013 I raised the issue of the portrayal of some female characters in the Metal Gear Solid (MGS) franchise. My starting point for the article grew from Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain’s trailer at 2013’s E3 event in L.A, and subsequent comments made by Hideo Kojima (creator of MGS) thereafter.


Kojima later tweeted about how he wished for “more erotic” character design, for both cosplaying and commercial reasons. There appeared to be no artistic or narrative merit to his latest creation.


In a video interview with IGN in December of 2013, Kojima did try to clarify that perhaps how he introduced Quiet to the world was not the best way to do so. A “mistake” in fact.





He further tried to justify his actions by stating Quiet’s reveal was only done to appease curious cosplayers. These same cosplayers have not been slow in dressing up in Quiet’s minimal outfit (google search if curious I won’t be showing that here) post reveal. Again this appeasement of fans proved to have no artistic or narrative value. Those who question or criticise Quiet’s portrayal Kojima states “will feel ashamed of your words and deeds”. This conclusion we will arrive at once we get to know Quiet and understand her appearance.

Based on what we have seen thusfar and the omission by Kojima that this is his portrayal of the “ideal” female,  I look forward getting to know Quiet. I look forward to discovering why in the middle of the desert we have a relatively young, attractive, well endowed and curvaceous woman, parading around in her underwear, a pair of ripped tights with only a sniper riffle for protection. I look forward to discovering her raison d’être, for what I can only deduce is an odd fashion sense, the love of a powerful gun and an insatiable appetite for vitamin D.


While Kojima has made attempts to backtrack on the reveal of Quiet and clarify her appearance, he doesn’t condemn his earlier comments or tweets; “The initial target is to make you want to do cosplay or it’s figurine to sell well”.

While a tweet is restricted to 140 characters and things can not always be fully fleshed out in a tweet, it is the 2012 BAFTA Lecture comments that are hard to escape. As much as I admire the MGS series, and Kojima, it is the disturbing reality of his perception of the “ideal” I struggle with. He has fired this bullet and it is not coming back, there is no opportunity to reload it now. So what other conclusion does one arrive at? Quiet’s portrayal is purely for “fantasy” reasons, commercial reasons and has no artistic merit whatsoever.

In the wake of Quiet’s reveal Kojima drew criticism from fellow industry creatives. 343 Industries designer David Ellis commented on twitter “Don’t care if this gets me in trouble. This character design is disgusting. Our industry should be better than this. Industry full of man babies. Ugh.” 

The consequences of Kojima’s actions have been far reaching. In the ensuing months a myriad of articles have appeared online discussing the portrayal of Quiet from various online outlets.

The portrayal of Kojima’s “ideal” women have resulted in critique from many journalists. Most recently in relation to the ending of Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes (MGSVGZ) and Paz’s portrayal by IGN’s Lucy O’Brien:

Budding games journalist Ria Jenkins chimes in too, focusing on the heavy handed and misplaced nature of the sexual violence that exists in the MGSVGZ experience. The unsettling content is presented to the audience in the form of tapes entitled “rewards” for fully completing side quests and exploration in MGSVGZ:

I have extended the critique to look at the worrying portrayal of not only Quiet, but of other female characters in the MGS universe over the years. A worrying pattern is at play here:

In January and February of this year, Kojima shared images of the impending Quiet figurine via Twitter. The images made no attempt to further clarify what Kojima had referred to as a mistake previously. They didn’t alleviate fears or distance Kojima from the allegations of sexism lobbied at him. The images showed a figure based on the portrayal of Quiet from 2013’s E3 and reinforced the “more erotic” tone he was looking to capture. One might argue that erotic term he speaks of is a more palatable term for pornographic.






A recent Kojima Station episode featured a sizeable content on Stefanie Joosten (the actor portraying Quiet) who is on a “mission” to infiltrate Kojima headquarters to gather intel on The Phantom Pain (TPP) project.

In addition to this a discussion thread on Reddit (via user called “winches”) suggests that Quiet might be a playable character in TPP. In an interview with Famitsu, Kojima stated that In the game, Quiet is the main heroine. Whether she is friend or foe has yet to be revealed so I had to be careful when casting her role.”


The image highlights how in previous games a playable character is often tortured. Could Quiet be a playable character in TPP? The advent of the power of Kojima’s “Fox Engine”, an openworld setting, refined gameplay and a Hayter free Snake, are undoubtedly large changes for the MGS series. The possible presence of a female playable character would be a seismic change in the franchise.

Since the release of MGSVGZ in March little has been shown of TPP. In recent days Kojima has been tweeting that he is currently working on a new trailer for TPP. Could new trailer shed new information on the role that Quiet will play? WIll a new reveal of her be one that changes the publics opinion on her and Kojima’s portrayal of the “ideal” female? Only time will tell, for now Kojima remains quiet on Quiet. Never has silence been so deafening.



When Michel Hazanavicius’ mutli award winning black-and-white silent film The Artist (2011) arrived in cinemas, audiences were captivated by this wordless wonder. Our protagonist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) the leading light in the silent film era, finds his career and life unravelling with the arrival of the “talkie” era of Hollywood. The films emphasis on score and gesture were more than sufficient to tell this compelling story of loss, pride and transition without a single spoken word.

In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013) a similar impact is achieved. Opening with one of our two protagonists Naiee grieving at his mother’s grave, tormented with memories of her drowning and his inability to save her, his elder brother Nyaa informs him that their father has taken ill. The brothers must journey to the Tree of Life to collect water in order to save him. Our heroes travel through towns, hills, and mountains, reuniting friendly trolls, saving a man from suicide, evading terrifying wolves and rescuing a girl from sacrificial offering. These events bring the brothers closer together. The gameplay requires you to use your controller to full effect; both analogue sticks and shoulder buttons are used in perfect symmetry to guide the brothers on their quest. In this dialogue free universe, events are emotionally charged through score and gesture alone. One particular setpiece unsettled me so much, that completing the ensuing gameplay event was a palpable experience. Through simple gesture alone, I was taken on an emotional journey far surpassing the geographical journey I embarked on with our protagonists.  In no other game have I experienced a truer breaking of the fourth wall between player and protagonist. Through the duality of gesture and emotional mindset I was transported to a tangible reality. Brothers is a masterpiece, it left me ruminating on the preciousness of life and the inevitability of dealing with mortality.

In an industry of maturing storytelling and graphical fidelity, the sound of silence never seemed to offer so much.

words by david rushe

A-Typical Plan: Projects and Essays on Identity, Flexibility and Atmosphere in the Office

By Jeannette Kuo
Park Books
202pp; £39

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 09.27.02

Jeannette Kuo’s book A-Typical Plan: Projects and Essays on Identity, Flexibility and Atmosphere in the Office is an analysis of the evolution and architectural complexity in the design of the office typology from the 1880s to 2012.

Kuo’s book on the condition of office design and why it requires study is best summarised in her opening salvo: What is the nature of work today? How can architecture inspire and enable new exchanges in the workplace? Can architecture make work pleasurable? Can architecture also anticipate new possibilities and definitions of work?

The book makes a bold attempt to address these issues succinctly in 202 pages with 20 case studies by the likes of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Smithsons, Richard Rogers, MVRDV and Toyo Ito, to argue her cause. The selected projects are illustrated with sections, floorplans and photographs focusing mainly on the interior environment of the office typology.

Kuo attacks the repetition and sameness of the blighted office buildings in the second half of the 20th century, but her method of illustration, often thumbnail style plans and sections does nothing to engage the reader as the format is the same exercise in repetition and sameness she admonishes.

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Larkin Building (1904-06) Frank Lloyd Wright

In addition to the 20 case studies, the book’s nine essays, an interview, and a comic strip Stewart Lee would be proud of shed light on various aspects of the office building throughout its history.

The book culminates with the work of students at Ecole Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne’s (EPFL) school of architecture, showing how such research is transformed into new projects. An essay by Freek Persyn entitled “Office +; Climate-sensitive workspace” is the highlight of the publication.

The book was named as one of 2013’s Most Beautiful Swiss Books at the Swiss Design Awards, and rightly so. Much like its attempt at concise conversation, the presentation and layout is clean, clear, simple and well illustrated to make accessible a sector that not all architects and designers might have an understanding of.

But often rewarding beauty acknowledges a lack of substance, and while the book is engaging, it feels contrived, its raison d’etre is simply to be anti-Koolhaas. Kuo freely admits the book was spurred into life to address Rem Koolhaas’ “Typical Plan” essay.

Given the plethora of books available on residential typologies, it is refreshing that a book begins to examine the design of office spaces where many of us find ourselves spending the best part of our lives.

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Geller Big Font: style over substance or an exercise in key selection?

The book is ultimately a piece of research; it doesn’t answer all the questions it brings up but creates more. It does begin to broaden the conversation on how we design office space for a new world, with new climatic and lifestyle challenges we face, and one should commend Kuo for this. If future conversations are to take place, they should focus on the core issues of office design and this might yield more positive outcomes.

The superfluous architectural stance of pro-Koolhaas or pro-Kuo is the thing that restricts true flexibility in the conversation. But then, when has ego ever affected an architect’s judgment?

words by david rushe