The RPGGreetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Not that anybody noticed but we skipped the last edition for a number of reasons. 1) Too many betas. Though we were monitoring developments in potential World of Warcraft killer New World and Left 4 Dead’s spiritual successor, Back 4 Blood, we didn’t see anything that could be discussed fairly. 2) Generally no new full releases of interest. 3) We had to RMA a graphics card and got sad. However, when setting out the vision for this column, there were no hard and fast rules about what got covered. So this time we’re headed back to 2014 and a crumbling space station where something extremely violent and dangerous lurks in the shadows…
I own two copies of Alien: Isolation. The first was bought on disc for the Xbox One at release seven years ago. At this point I had never truly committed to a “survival horror” simply because, while horror films and literature are great, horror games are another kettle of fish.
The flicking of pages and glow from the big screen are gentle reminders that you are “safe”. But gaming, as a far more immersive and active (dare I say) art form, is too real. Done well, your body and mind can forget that you’re not actually about to be murdered – at least in my case.
The Anesidora crew find a derelict Engineer ship
I was drawn to Alien: Isolation mainly because it was the only game based on Ridley Scott’s film franchise that honoured the oppressive atmosphere of the 1979 original. Up until then, most were big dumb shooters that seemed more inspired by James Cameron’s sequel – loads of aliens, easier to dispatch – as opposed to a solitary, highly intelligent, and nigh-on indestructible killing machine whose “structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”
The premise was helped by the fact that 20th Century Fox handed over 3TB of assets to developers Creative Assembly – so everything that you see, touch, interact with during the course of Isolation feels as though it could have come straight from Scott’s set, with that naïve but stylish retrofuturistic sci-fi aesthetic firmly intact.
The iconic ‘Space Jockey’ is lovingly rendered
The problem was that, when I finally psyched myself up enough to slip the disc in, my courage failed almost immediately on encountering the xenomorph. That first meeting takes place with you cowering beneath a desk as the alien emerges from a ceiling vent, its huge barbed tail slithering inches from your face. Then it begins – the hunt is on.
“Nope,” I stated, turning off the console while my unimpressed girlfriend looked on. And that was that. I hadn’t touched it until recently I spotted the game on sale from Steam for a measly £1. I snagged it, of course. I still wanted to see it through – and surely seven years is enough time to grow a pair?
For those unfamiliar with this masterpiece of tension and anxiety, the player takes the role of Amanda Ripley, daughter of the film series’ protagonist Ellen, who disappeared with the Weyland-Yutani freighter USCSS Nostromo. Hopefully we all know what happened there. Haunted by the loss of her mother, Ripley takes up a role as a gifted engineer in the sector where the Nostromo vanished in the hope of learning anything about the ship’s fate. Fifteen years after the events of the first Alien film, she is informed by Samuels, a Weyland-Yutani android, that the Nostromo’s black box has been recovered and taken to the space station Sevastopol.
The game is saved by reaching these emergency contact points
Ripley joins a Company expedition to retrieve the black box on a privately owned commercial courier ship, the Torrens, but the team arrives to find Sevastopol’s docking facilities damaged and communications unintelligible. Along with Samuels and WY lawyer Nina Taylor, the trio attempt a spacewalk to the station but debris severs their guideline. Separated from her companions, Ripley manages to gain access via an airlock but cannot hail her ship or team members.
The hulking Sevastopol station
She finds Sevastopol mostly deserted and in an advanced state of civil collapse. Something terrible has happened aboard the station – body bags and corpses litter the darkened ruin – but precisely what caused the carnage is unclear. We, however, know better. Wherever the Company has stuck its amoral capitalist mitts, a xenomorph is sure to be close at hand.
Isolation starts off slowly as Ripley attempts to find survivors and piece together the catastrophe. Up until the clip above, Sevastopol is deathly quiet and the greatest threat are the terrified citizens who are desperate to leave by any means. But once contact has been made, it is safe to assume that you are being hunted most of the time.
The blowtorch cuts emergency panels to access locked-down areas
There’s a bit of a learning curve with how to survive. Though Ripley finds weaponry like a revolver early on, players will soon discover that bullets are ineffective at subduing the beast. It may take place in the first-person perspective, but Isolation is decidedly not a shooter. Your best bet is to sneak, well, everywhere unless you can be sure that the alien isn’t in the vicinity.
By default, Ripley walks around Sevastopol and can sprint too. The problem is that both these movement modes create sound, which is basically a dinner bell for the game’s scarily convincing AI.
The motion tracker in action
As for figuring out the whereabouts of the creature, one of Isolation’s coolest mechanics is the motion tracker. The handheld device bleeps whenever an object moves into range and can be brought out to show a dot on the display that gives you an idea how far away your foe/s may be. This intel helps the player figure out whether they can safely move on or need to hide. Lockers, cabinets, and beneath tables can all be used to evade death – but be warned, line of sight must be broken or you’ll be yanked out of your hiding spot and disembowelled through a number of disturbing and awesome animations. You’ll be feeling like this quite a lot:
Simply hiding is not always the solution either. If the alien is convinced you are in a room, it can approach a locker sniffing the air, listening intently, all of which you can see through the grates, and the game prompts you to move back and hold your breath before you give yourself away. Also, if the creature’s tail brushes you while you’re under a table, consider it game over, man. And if you notice drool dripping from a ceiling vent… maybe go around?
When caught, you’re treated to a glorious slaying animation
It is genuinely terrifying, but you are also presented with numerous tools that help increase the chance of survival. By picking up blueprints around the station, Ripley can jerry-rig noisemaker devices, which can be thrown in the opposite direction to distract the beast and give you a window to slip away. Molotovs come in handy as fire is canonically the alien’s only apparent weakness. Though a flamethrower becomes available towards the end of the game, note that it merely repels the creature long enough for you to reposition and push on. It will return within the minute.
A Molotov may give you a chance to escape
But the xenomorph is not the only threat on Sevastopol. Dead-eyed “Working Joes” – the space station’s fleet of maintenance androids – also stalk the corridors. They seem to have gone haywire during the crisis, brutalising the very people they were designed to protect.
As Ripley picks up voice recordings and logs on the affectionately retro tapes and CRT monitors found across the station, a sinister subplot unfolds. Someone must have told the droids to change their behaviour. Could they actually be safeguarding the alien’s presence on Sevastopol?
The Working Joes are almost as unsettling as the creature
The Working Joes move slowly but are extremely tough to neutralise. Regular varieties can be snuck up on from behind and smashed around the bonce with Ripley’s huge spanner-like thing. Alternatively, a blast in the face from a shotgun will make quick work of them, though those wearing hazard suits are apparently impervious to conventional weapons. Other craftable countermeasures like EMP and explosive mines help, but often it is better to just give them the slip if possible.
‘Hacking’ minigames unlock areas or information
The action is carried along by Ripley’s communications with her team (once re-established) and the various survivors she meets. Objectives are flagged up as waypoints on the 2D wire-drawn map, but Sevastopol is a maze of tunnels, maintenance shafts, and corridors – it is often difficult to navigate and getting lost and disorientated is all part of the package. One of the most impressive moments is a segue to the crew of the Anesidora, the salvage ship that found the wreck of the Nostromo, detailing what they discovered after backtracking the ship’s path to LV-426, the exomoon from Aliens, which might give you a clue as to how the xenomorph arrived on Sevastopol.
The blowtorch cuts emergency panels to access locked-down areas
Isolation is marvellous but not for everyone. If charging about guns blazing is your thing, you won’t last a minute on Sevastopol. The slow burn and doomed atmosphere will probably bore those keener on action-oriented gameplay. For you, Aliens: Fireteam Elite – a Left 4 Dead-like co-op shooter – just came out. Likewise, the faint of heart should proceed with caution. Being hunted by sci-fi’s most iconic monster is extremely stressful and cheap jump-scares are more common than I would have liked.
However, for a seven-year-old game, Isolation looks incredible and is exceptionally well optimised, at least on PC, so if your graphics card is showing its age, you should have a decent experience. The British dev studio has lovingly recreated the feeling and aesthetic of Alien down to the millimetre so for even casual fans it’s unmissable. Clocking in at around 25 hours long, Isolation is without doubt the best survival horror I’ve ever played to the end – and, admittedly, the only one. ®
Rich played Alien: Isolation in its entirety on Twitch as ExcellentSword over the course of a few months. Chuck him a follow for more video game impressions as they happen! Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from around 8:30-9pm UK time.
While returning to the office is now possible for many, some workers might still want the option of flexible working some of the time. Here’s how to broach the subject.
This week marked the beginning of a phased and staggered return to workplaces for many employees in Ireland.
It essentially marked the first official green light for employers to ready their offices and start putting plans in place for their staff’s return.
However, HR body CIPD Ireland urged employers to be mindful of anxious workers as they face “another round of upheaval” with the return to offices.
So, while employers are finalising plans about how, where and when their teams will work, some employees may be wondering how to go about expressing their preference, worried that it’s not in line with what the company wants.
While there have been plenty of discussions and remote work advocates calling for leaders to be more flexible and recognise that the future of work will be hybrid, the reality for individual employees can feel very different.
While big-picture debates around the right to request remote work are happening, how do you ask for what you want in the here and now, when your boss is determined to have a full return to the office?
Explain your reasons
If remote or flexible working isn’t something your boss is already willing to give you, then you must treat it like a pay rise request.
Explain clearly and concisely the reasons why you want more flexibility, how it will benefit you and make you a more engaged, happier worker.
While family commitments might be an important factor, so too is work-life balance and getting rid of long commutes. And, while there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Covid-19 is still a very real concern, so don’t be afraid to express your reservations about this too.
Make a business case
When you ask for a pay increase, you provide proof of the value you have added to the company. Take the same approach here and explain to your boss how flexible working will actually be beneficial to them.
Some managers who resist remote working might still have an office-based mentality where presenteeism is key. But there are numerous studies that show that knowledge workers are more productive when working remotely.
And, when done as a purposeful business strategy, remote working can help teams prioritise work more clearly as well as allowing for more downtime and work-life balance.
Depending on your manager, your team and the work you do, it may not be feasible to ask to work from home five days a week.
It’s important that you are realistic about asking for what you want and also realistic about what you can deliver in return. Remote workers can be more productive but they can also be in danger of burning out so be thoughtful about what strategy will work best for both you and your manager.
Listen to their perspective
While conversations around remote working appear to be mostly positive, it can be a different situation behind the office doors.
Many managers and leaders are still hesitant about moving to a fully flexible working strategy and this can lead to workers feeling like they are not being listened to.
However, one of the best ways to combat that hesitancy from managers is to listen to their concerns and address them in a problem-solving manner.
Being able to alleviate some of your manager’s worries might make them more amenable to allowing for more flexibility.
Make expectations clear
If you do convince your boss to allow for a more flexible working plan than what they had originally considered, it’s important that both sides understand what is expected.
Without clearly defining the outcomes of the new set-up, misunderstandings can lead to disappointments and feelings of mistrust in the idea of flexible working.
The second sexual revolution began 30 years ago, on 23 September 1991, with the release of an educational videotape called The Lovers’ Guide. The revolution’s unlikely figureheads were a film producer who had been making how-to videos about gardening and pets and cooking, and a 56-year-old doctor, while their ally was an American former TV and theatre director who had become Britain’s chief film censor.
The producer was a man called Robert Page, who had been approached by Virgin – which had recently started making condoms – to make a sexual health film for men that explained how to use one. There were two difficulties with that. The first was that no erect penis had been shown on screen in Britain. The second was that Page had no interest in making a film about penises. The censor – James Ferman, the director of the British Board of Film Classification from 1975 to 1999 – took care of the first issue.
“I was talking to the great James Ferman,” Page says, talking from New York, where he now lives, “and he went, ‘There’s only one law, and it’s called obscenity and it’s that which will deprave and corrupt.’ He said, ‘I see nothing depraving or corrupting in a man pulling a condom on in this era. I think it’s downright sensible.’”
Page brought up the second issue. “I went, ‘You know all these how-to videos? There’s this area of life that we don’t talk about. You wouldn’t let me make one about sex, would you?’ He said, ‘What would you want to show?’ I went, ‘Men and women, with actual intercourse.’” Page wanted to show oral sex. He wanted to show genitals. He wanted to show the things that even films made for sex shops couldn’t show, and he wanted to show them in a film that would get an 18 certificate and be sold as a VHS tape on the high street.
Ferman laid down conditions. The film had to be fronted by a doctor. The script had to be approved by a reputable organisation. There was to be no lingering on the explicit shots. It was not, in short, to be a mucky film, regardless of what its viewers might use it for.
Page wanted Alex Comfort, the author of The Joy of Sex, to be the doctor, but Comfort’s publishers rejected the idea. Instead he turned to Andrew Stanway, another veteran “sexologist”, with a string of books to his name (Stanway did not respond to requests for an interview). “He was a quite tall, wide man, with huge hands,” says Simon Ludgate, who was hired as director. “He had greying, curly, fair hair, a pointy nose and beady eyes. He reminded me of a bad magician with a ‘look into my eyes’ hypnotic stare.”
It’s Stanway who gives the clinical narration – “The clearest sign of male sexual arousal is an erection. Tissue within the penis fills with blood, making it stiffen. As arousal increases, so does heart rate. Breathing quickens and the nostrils flare” – and he both co-wrote the script and helped recruit the film’s stars. Chief among them were Tony and Wendy Duffield, former patients of his, who went on to be the Brad and Angelina of the sex ed video market. They later appeared on Desmond Morris’s The Human Animal making love with tiny cameras inside them to show the processes at work.
The Duffields weren’t the real problem, though. “There were a couple of people, who were supposed to be a couple and weren’t,” Page says. “One of the guys, the one who stands up to masturbate – Marino – was an adult film professional. We didn’t know that, but the press knew right away. I can’t tell you how naive we were. We had no idea. We had never been in this world. We had done very wholesome stuff, so doing this was breaking new ground.”
The press did indeed know right away, and before the film came out the News of the World revealed the fact that The Lovers’ Guide featured porn stars. “It almost sank us,” Ludgate says. “Woolworths at that point said they weren’t going to stock it, and Woolworths at the time were massive. And then WH Smith said they weren’t going to.”
The shops relented in time for release, and The Lovers’ Guide arrived on the high street. Page and Ludgate are insistent that their motives were purely to help couples, though the film’s makers knew the first certified film to feature explicit sex, even with Stanway’s lugubrious voiceover, would fly out of the shops, and not just to people wanting to learn some new positions. And so Page spent more on The Lovers’ Guide – it was shot on film, not tape, with purpose-built sets – than anything he had ever made before.
He says now he thought it might rival the 250,000 copies of a Neighbours tie-in video he had made. In fact, it sold 200,000 copies in its first fortnight, going on to sell 1.3m in the UK alone, and hundreds of thousands more around the world. (“My greatest regret is not taking a percentage,” Ludgate says. “I still kick myself about that.”)
Looking at it now, in a world of Pornhub, YouPorn, PornMD and everything else, The Lovers’ Guide seems almost unbearably innocent. It is sex at its gentlest. Everything is shot in soft focus; candles are everywhere. (Page was insistent the film’s primary market be women, though the soft focus and candles spoke more to male ideas of female sexuality. Nevertheless, 55% of buyers were women.) Couples wander through fields, smiling happily, before retiring to bedrooms and bathrooms for soft and sensual lovemaking (with a voiceover). Nothing from it would now get anywhere near the front page of a porn aggregator site.
“Some of the sex scenes in The Lovers’ Guide were certainly erotic,” Ferman – who died in 2002 – would later say. “But eroticism was never, I think, the primary purpose of the scene. The primary function of the scene was to be helpful to couples in the audience who were trying to improve their own sex life.” He argued that what separated the finished film from pornography was context: “You weren’t looking at two bodies, two strangers on screen having it away. You were actually looking at people who told what sex meant to them, what their relationships meant, what they wanted to do, what they were trying to do. And they were real people. And ordinary people watching felt, ‘They are just like us, and if this is what they do, this is what we can do.’”
Page accepts that not all his audience had education in mind, but takes the view that he was smuggling greens into their meal. “We discussed this with Jim Ferman. They were buying it to get off on it, but actually they’d learn loads of things along the way. If it had been some medical thing with diagrams, who would have bought it?” (Curiously, Ludgate says that’s exactly what Stanway wanted – women with their legs in stirrups while he pointed out the clitoris.) “There were 10,000 or so letters,” Page continues, “saying, ‘We’ve been married x years, we started watching your programme and we were making love on the living room carpet before it had finished. Thank you for saving our marriage.’ And that was fantastic.”
What was crucial was that you could buy The Lovers’ Guide easily. There were only 80 or so licensed sex shops in the UK, selling R18 films – which were not, at that point, as explicit as The Lovers’ Guide. “My family moved to Cornwall in the 1990s,” says Clarissa Smith, editor of the academic journal Porn Studies, “and the nearest sex shops were in Plymouth or Bristol, but you could buy The Lovers’ Guide in WH Smith. The ease of access was definitely really important.”
While it wasn’t pornography, it was revolutionary. Politics has the concept of the Overton window – the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time – in which the centre of political gravity shifts left and right. One might think of sex, too, as having its own Overton window, and the 90s saw that window shift to allow portrayals of explicit sex, and an explosion in pornography.
There were simple, practical, legal reasons for that. From 1986, the Reagan and Bush administrations in the US had vigorously pursued obscenity prosecutions against pornographic film-makers. Bill Clinton came to power in 1993 promising to follow that agenda; in fact the Clinton administration had virtually no interest in prosecuting pornographers. In 1992, there were 42 prosecutions in the US in which federal obscenity offences were the lead charge; by 1998, there were only six. The result was a boom in porn production, and the rise of mega-studios such as Evil Empire and Vivid Entertainment.
That would have been irrelevant had porn remained the preserve of sex shops. But three things were happening at once. First, escalating traffic loads caused the first wave of free porn sites – often run by college students, and usually consisting of images stolen from professional porn – to fade from business, because they didn’t have the bandwidth to continue. Second, in summer 1994, a man sold a Sting CD to his friend over the internet, described by the New York Times as “the first retail transaction on the internet using a readily available version of a powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy”. E-commerce was born. It wasn’t long before those who lived too far from sex shops, or who couldn’t bring themselves to walk into one, would be able to buy those Evil Empire and Vivid films without leaving their homes: they could visit a site such as Blissbox and have them delivered, in plain packaging, for the same cost as a Hollywood film, rather than the high prices charged by sex shops for something tamer. Third, a dancer and stripper called Danni Ashe noticed how many of her pictures were being traded on Usenet groups, and set up her own website, sparking a rush for porn producers to sell content directly via the internet.
At the same time, the culture was changing. Soft porn mags for women were launching, as was the hugely explicit Black Lace series of novels, also aimed at women, which sold more than 4m copies between its launch in 1993 and its closure in 2009. Margi Clarke’s TV show The Good Sex Guide launched in 1993, and got unheard-of ratings for a late-night show: 13 million viewers. And a new kind of male culture – in which it was assumed and accepted that viewing porn was nothing to be ashamed of – was emerging. Porn was in newsagents, in the “lad mags”, and it was on screen.
By the end of the 1990s, what was officially licensed lagged so far behind what was readily available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card that change was inevitable. The driver of change, again, was James Ferman. He was convinced the only way to draw people away from violent pornography – his particular bete noire – was to grant R18 certificates to films depicting consensual penetration and allow them to be sold in licensed sex shops. The test case was a film called Makin’ Whoopee, to the outrage of the new home secretary, Jack Straw.
Straw summoned the BBFC’s vice-president, Lord Birkett, to his office and railed at him. “Do you really mean that you are going to allow oral sex and buggery and I don’t know what else?” Birkett later recalled Straw as saying. “That you are actually passing this? You are giving a certificate to it?”
In the face of Straw’s rage, the BBFC withdrew Makin’ Whoopee’s certification, and Straw changed the body’s leadership, with Ferman and Birkett departing. But in his final report for the BBFC, Ferman displayed prescience. “It may well be that in the 21st century, it simply becomes impossible to impose the kind of regulation which the board exists to provide,” he wrote. “After all, what is the point of cutting a gang-rape scene in a British version of a film if that film is accessible down a telephone line from outside British territorial waters? I am probably the last of the old-time regulators.” Ferman may have lost his job, but he won the fight with Straw – for another statutory body, the Video Appeals Committee, simply reversed the BBFC’s decision to back down, and seven porn films were licensed for sale in sex shops. Censorship of pornography had, to all intents and purposes, finished in the UK.
The Lovers’ Guide did not cause the collapse of censorship. It did not lead to YouPorn. That was the internet. But it was the starting point for a decade of change. “I think it was one of those moments in social history where there was a need for change, and we fulfilled the need,” Ludgate says. “I think there was a collective need for change, and curiosity. Since the 60s, the cult of the individual had grown and this was part of that process. It was something people wanted individually that changed a lot of attitudes towards sex. I think it was a massive, seismic shift in attitudes.”
And still it does its work. A few weeks after we talk, Page forwards an email he has just received. “Hi Robert. I just want to give you a VERY, VERY BIG THANK YOU AGAIN. I have bought your complete collection of The Lover’s GUIDE. Your work is impeccable. I began watching them, and all I can say is. You sir are AWESOME. What I have been learning from them is amazing, and I just really wanted to THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!!!!”
The trading arm of the Raspberry Pi Foundation has received a £33m investment – putting paid to rumours that the company was looking to float on the stock exchange as a means of funding growth.
The Raspberry Pi project came to the public’s attention back in 2011, and by the time the education-focused single-board computer entered mass production a year later demand was high – so high that its initial production run of 10,000 units sold out in seconds.
Earlier this year, a report claimed that Raspberry Pi was to float on the stock market with a £300m valuation – a suggestion co-founder Eben Upton gently dismissed as being a simple chat with unnamed advisors about “how we might fund the future growth of the business” that had been “over-interpreted” by the media.
Now the meat behind the sizzle has been revealed: a report in The Telegraph confirming the sale of stakes in the company to Lansdowne Partners and the Ezrah Charitable Trust – providing $45m (around £33m) in funding without needing to go public.
Lansdowne Partners’ presence in the list of investors is less surprising than Ezrah Charitable Trust. The latter was founded by former Goldman Sachs vice-president and Farallon Capital Management partner David Cohen in 2016 to focus “on the poorest of the poor, especially in Africa” – an indicator that it may be the work of the not-for-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation that was of interest.
According to executive director Kevin L Miller’s LinkedIn profile, Ezrah Charitable Trust remains “dedicated to serving people burdened by poverty by providing catalytic support to our high-impact implementing partners” – among which Raspberry Pi can now be counted.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t cash on the table while the charity works to improve access to computing for all. The foundation’s 2020 financials [PDF] showed a total group income of over £95.8m, nearly double the £49.5m it reported in 2019.
“The commercial and human impact [Raspberry Pi] has achieved in its first decade has been extraordinary,” Peter Davies, Lansdowne partner and head of developed markets strategy, claimed in a statement to press on the investment, “and we look forward to assisting the company to expand this even further in coming years as new capital is deployed.”
Neither Raspberry Pi nor Ezrah Charitable Trust responded to requests for comment in time for publication. ®