Sunday, 16 February 2014

On First Bikes and Next Bikes

My current bike, a Yamaha YZF-R125
I love my motorcycle. Let me introduce you- it’s a 2008 Yamaha YZF-R125 in the slightly unfortunately named “Impact Yellow” colour scheme. Yamaha saw a gap in the L-plate suitable small-displacement motorcycle market for something that was actually desirable, and promptly filled it with a bike that sold tremendously. The bike combines noob-friendly handling and power output with the look and feel of a proper big-engine motorbike. As a first bike, it comes highly recommended. But! Alas, that little engine isn’t enough to keep a bike fiend entertained forever, no matter how much he thrashes it, and sooner or later I’ll sadly part ways with my beloved little Yammy for something with a bit more grunt. The question is- what?

My lizard brain immediately answers- R1. Small wonder that the atavistic part of the human psyche that wants only to fight, fuck and devour (in that order) everything it sees is attracted to Yamaha’s ferocious 180 mile-per-hour race-bred 1000cc superbike flagship, but the more developed primate brain feels differently. An R1 is far too much for someone with just one year’s riding experience to handle, it says, you’d die and lose your licence (maybe not in that order). Such a fierce machine would be a bit wasted on the fifteen mile commute to university. Plus, once there, such a predatory bastard thing slouched indifferently on its sidestand by the gate might frighten the more sensitive female students.
The widowmaking Yamaha YZF-R1.

So an R1 (or any of its similarly mental litre-class stablemates from the other manufacturers) is not really an option (yet…). Much as I dig the race-bike aesthetic, the less powerful 600cc supersports bikes are probably still a bit much, in their aggressive, track-focused handling setup perhaps more than raw power, and used examples are likely to have been thrashed relentlessly by horny lizard-men. And, let’s face it- they’re compact and uncomfortable and not really for massive fat bastards like me. What's to be done?

Believe it or not, there are some bikes I’m drawn to that aren’t insane, that might even be sensible. The Suzuki SV650 has a very manageable power output from its fruity V-twin engine, and, while on the budget end of the spectrum, can still call itself a proper sportbike with a straight face. Plus, in half-faired “S” form, it’s a jolly handsome bike. This is important because people judge a man based on how good his bike looks. It’s not just, but that’s life. The SV is cheap, though, in more than just list price, and there are more thrilling rides out there.
The playful Suzuki SV650.

A Kawasaki Ninja 250R would be a decent shout. The wee green machine (or black, if the first owner didn’t understand the fucking point of a Kawasaki) is a new-biker favourite in the US and with good reason- it looks good and inspires confidence. With only a little bit more poke than my current bike, the Ninja is available to me right now, unlike more powerful machinery which would really have to wait until the two-year probationary period on my licence had elapsed in December. A 250cc bike would still offer much of the economy and usability I’ve grown used to from the 125cc- good, since my primary use is commuting through town to university. However, it’s only a kind of half-step, and I’d still want to make another upgrade once it was available, and they’re
expensive, too.

A Ninja 250R in the correct lime green.
Perhaps the most promising upgrade prospect comes not from one bike, but a class of them. Prior to the current trend for really hardcore racetrack focused sports bikes, there were 600cc all-rounders that combined comfy seats and road-friendly design with more than enough speed to thoroughly upset the constabulary. These bikes, notably the Yamaha YZF600R Thundercat, the Honda CBR600F and the Kawasaki ZZR600, really fell from fashion once the (admittedly far sexier) race replica bikes came on the scene, and as a consequence can these days be picked up for not really much money at all- I’ve seen roadworthy examples for £800, and shite but redeemable ones for under £500. But there’s nothing wrong with them! They’re quick, reliable, good looking (except maybe the ZZR which is a bit of a land-barge) and less harsh to ride than the bikes that succeeded them. And they’re not complete pussycats either- before the new racier bikes hit, these were what were used for racebikes, and they’ll give you 150mph and 11 second quarter miles. However, one of these would still be a considerable leap up in performance from the R125, with all the bastarding running costs associated with that, and even the final models released are old now, with all the bastarding repair costs associated with that.

Left to right- A CBR600F, ZZR600 and YZF600R Thundercat- each overlooked in favour of their sexier but higher maintenance younger sisters.
Difficult decisions, eh? It’s probably worth remembering that modern Japanese-built motorcycles are basically quite good, and that it’s hard to get one that’s just shite- there’s not really a wrong choice to be made here. But it still weighs heavy on my mind, occupying brain function that really should be devoted to nobler pursuits, like passing my law degree and convincing a nice young lady to go out with me. Fucking motorcycles! Dangerous even when you’re out of the saddle!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Note On 1990 Era Performance Cars

This is a third generation Nissan Skyline GT-R, and I am about to rap to you about why it should make your little dick hard like frozen diamond. What, it look like a respectable saloon? That’s its fucking secret. This is a straight up fucking weapon with the perfect disguise, like a six year old girl packed with dynamite and Soviet ideologies. How does a 2.3 litre inline-six cylinder engine sound? Awesome is the answer, it’s all snarly and sharp like a 150lb wasp. Also, there are two turbochargers. Two, you punk, because forcibly cramming  fuel and air in the combustion chamber for the wildest possible explosion once is simply insufficient when your goal is to make Sonic the Goddamned Hedgehog weep at his relative lack of speed. Nissan claimed about 280 brake horsepower, but this was modesty, and really it was over 300 when the car was running good. It was the late eighties when the car they would call Godzilla was conceived. Some Nissan engineer was all like, “shit, let’s make a car that will make every race series in Japan look stupid as hell by walking over the top of them” and his boss was like “haha yeah ok bro do it” and then it actually happened.  We got this fucking magic all-wheel drive system, I don’t know how the fuck it works, that lets the car cling to the track like Spiderman to a naked tit but still corner like the magic bullet that killed JFK. The whole car is overengineered as shit, too, so the fast and furious tuner boys can’t get enough of it. You can, in theory, tune this engine to produce a power output approximately equivalent to that of twenty-one supernovae, and thanks to the torque-splitting-centre-differential traction sorcery all that power will just be delivered with no fuss, and uproot the nation’s entire fucking road system, spooling it out the back like in a Looney Tune, as you rocket off, pulling 0-60 figures that cannot be measured by modern science en route to a top speed comparable to that of light. For real- can you imagine some smarmy shit of an investment banker’s face when his brand new Porsche convertible is smoked away from the lights by a fucking NISSAN!? Nissan, like who made the Sunny! That’s the kind of range they have as an engineering company- like Bryan Cranston is equally convincing as goofy dad and as crank kingpin, Nissan are equally skilled at making boring hatchbacks for boring people to cart their ugly kids around, and howling performance icons like this beauty. It’s not that beautiful, actually. The later models looked a lot better. And went faster. Shit.  Whatever- the GT-R was a Goddamned revolution.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Seeing Things Differently

Have you ever come to see someone you thought you knew in a different light? Like, you’ve got this female friend, right, and you’re close, but just friends, you know, she’s in a relationship, whatever. You can finish each other’s sentences, laugh at each other’s jokes before the punchline, know all each other’s favourite snacks- but you’re just friends, no more. You’ve never even considered her romantically, not even once- totally platonic. And then, suddenly, she’s single, and she’s starting to get back into dating again, and you start to think differently about her. Look at her differently. Suddenly you’re seeing something completely different when you look at this girl you knew so well; the lines of her face, the way she walks, the curve of her hips, even. All of a sudden, it’s almost like you’re checking her out, noticing her for the first time. You think about that time she hugged you at the ice cream place, when you felt something- something unfamiliar and strange, but thought nothing of it. It’s like when you played the shit out of Mario World as a kid, know it like it’s your own house, and it’s only when you dust off your old SNES that you realise you only ever played world 1. Suddenly, there’s so much- more, it’s a goddamn revelation. It took just a subtle change for you to realise what you hadn’t been seeing, and then it was there all along, staring in your stupid face. End of the Sixth Sense, you know? There the whole time, but you just didn’t see. It took this perfect moment, this sudden flash of light, this epiphany for you to realise just how fucking fat she’s gotten.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Vive la Différence: How GT5 and Forza 4 Prove the Industry Wrong

We gamers, and this site not least, often lament how modern games have ever less variety- how modern action games are clones of one of Call of Duty, Uncharted or Gears of War. We often complain that seeing something different is far more unusual than it should be, and we get perhaps over-excited when we see something that is- see Watch_Dogs. On the face of it, one might think that racing games would be the most guilty of this- the premise of driving a car around a track is identical for damn near every one of them, right?

Well, maybe. As a car fan without money for cars, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the two biggest names in console race sims- Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 and Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport 4, and it turns out that the variation between two outwardly similar games is greater than it appears; it seems to me that there is a fundamental difference in design philosophy, pervading every aspect of the games, that sets them apart from one another to attentive eyes.

GT5 presents a simulation experience, pure almost to the point of harshness, but deep too, with multiple disciplines, a huge range of cars and meticulous attention to detail. Over a thousand painstakingly recreated vehicles make up the roster, and each one drives differently. Real world and virtual tracks are included, all with their own subtle nuances, and the player can race at night, in the rain, or on snow or dirt tracks to their heart’s content. Career progression and menus, however, can be very clunky at times, and AI opponents often seem oblivious to the player’s car- it’s clear that this is a game that is all about the driving simulation, with no room for compromise.

Forza, on the other hand, is a far more player-focused experience, offering a more structured campaign and the polish for the smoothest possible player experience. The career mode is smooth and well-designed, menus slick and car customisation intuitive. The online suite offers the ready usability of a Call of Duty game, and carefully planned DLC offers new cars and tracks that add to an already complete experience. For all its polish, though, it lacks GT’s range and depth of cars and experience, not to mention a little of its character.

Everything from menus (slick in Forza and intimidating in GT) to race physics (with GT’s lending each car more personality but Forza’s superior feedback) to my mind illustrates that these games, supposedly interchangeable, are in fact two very different creations born of very different but equally worthy visions. Which is better? I couldn’t possibly say; Forza seems to represent the console ideal of challenging gameplay accessible to all, while Gran Turismo’s unwavering focus and clear passion are admirable. As a car fan and a game fan, I like both very much; both sold well and received praise from critics, despite taking very different approaches to the same basic formula. Neither game releases annually, either, and both are receiving impressive post release support in the form of patches, DLC and community events.

Why, then, do so many developers seek to follow trends and copy the competition? Here, surely, is proof positive that visionary and talented game creation yields a truly worthwhile (not to mention marketable) product, distinct from the competition. Forza and GT are franchises with unique identity and vision; trends come and trends go, but I believe that a game with that identity can stick around for a very long time.

This article was originally posted on www.invalidopinions.com - check it out- it's great and actually gets updates unlike my stupid goddamn blog.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

More Cars I Could Never Afford: Mclaren Reveal MP4-12C Spider

Mclaren last week announced and showed off a new model of their slickly named MP4-12C supercar, this time with up to 100% less roof. Presumably in a bid to silence those claiming the car looked a little tame for a £170,000 all-carbon twin-turbo supercar, the spider looks fucking amazing. Mclaren claim the coupe’s blistering performance is largely intact, thanks to design wizardry and carbon fibre- most cars converted to convertibles as an afterthought end up heavy and lame thanks to the compromised structure and necessary reinforcement, but the MP4-12C’s carbon tub chassis neatly sidesteps these issues, and there’s only a relatively minor 40kg weight increase from the folding hardtop. With the twin-turbo 3.8 litre V8 kicking out 631 horsepower, I suspect you won’t notice. I recall reading that some TT-veteran bike racer reckoned the hardtop McLaren would give a superbike a run for its money- with the roof gone, it might also match the sensory bombardment terror. The spider comes with all the same performance sorcery of the hardtop and will retail for a cool £195,500; pricier than the coupe, but if you’re in the market for one you can probably afford it. 

Though I’m not entirely sure why I’m qualified as a supercar pundit, I think the Spider is a welcome addition to the McLaren stable. Obviously, no one was questioning the MP4-12C’s pedigree- between the legendary F1 and decades of motorsport excellence, McLaren are assuredly top-flight when it comes to fast cars- but for such an exotic machine, it did seem a little bland (especially when the alternative is the outrageous Ferrari 458). The beautiful new Spider ought to reassert McLaren as a maker of cars that are not only technically marvellous, but impassioned and desirable; they’re going to need that if they hope to give Ferrari serious competition on the road as well as the track. I may have a little trouble securing a test drive, but when I do I’ll be sure to report on it. If any rockstars or CEOs are reading this and fancy picking one up, the first cars are expected to reach customers around the end of the year.

Monday, 4 June 2012

On Motorcycles and Middle-Earth

I can’t stop fucking thinking about motorcycles. Not just any motorcycles, either- 1000cc supersport motorcycles. I find myself obsessing over the engineering balance of the Honda Fireblade, the digital supremacy of the Aprilia RSV4 and the savage purity of the MV Augusta F4R. My father has a Ducati 916, widely regarded as a classic of the class, and took it out yesterday. It took twenty minutes to start and when it did it deafened me and woke the neighbours. But what a fucking thing it is! That styling, that ferocity, that v-twin rumble. This is dangerous; a fat fuck like me, who has never ridden so much as a moped, shouldn’t get any ideas about fast bikes. Cocaine is a healthier vice, and more socially acceptable, too. Fuck it. The heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart wants to race. All that remains is to find some money and negotiate the ever tightening maze of UK bike licensing laws, and I can get myself a cheap shit 125cc commuter bike- a start.

Been reading Lord of the Rings again. I’ve heard people complain and disparage about the books, claiming they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. While I can see where these people are coming from, I have to disagree. The Lord of the Rings is an unparalleled masterpiece- what it isn’t is readily accessible to the modern reader. Tolkien created not so much a story as a world, one that is fit to burst with depth, richness and melancholy. This, I think, is why we get songs that last four pages about some plot-irrelevant elf-maiden’s favourite tree while the deaths of major characters are done with in a few sentences. I mentioned in my post about the GTAV trailer how the GTA games give the player a beautiful world to lose himself in. Tolkien did the same shit with just text.

It’s also E3 season, with the Microsoft conference starting in about 45 minutes at the time of this writing- I’ll be posting about this one afterwards over at www.invalidopinions.com (HA HA PLUGGING). Hopefully, it won’t be a repeat of the casual gaming Kinect shitfest we saw last year. I’m hoping for some more GTAV content, maybe a new Playstation console, and for the Wii-U not to be completely horrible. As ever, you can bet that lots of stupid shit will be shown and that Half Life 3 won’t.

Friday, 1 June 2012

My Work for Invalid Opinions

I haven't posted here in three weeks; considering past form, that's a miraculously short interval, but I'm still unhappy with myself for it. There is a reason, though- I'm now on board with an independent games journalism site. Invalid Opinions seeks to provide articles and reviews with the unbiased and honest opinions of real video game enthusiasts, disillusioned with the current state of video game journalism and the industry as a whole. We've been picking up momentum pretty nicely, but it has occupied me away from this blog- much of my gaming content will be heading there for the time being, though it should work its way over here after a while. So! Check out Invalid Opinions, but don't stop checking here. I'm sure I'll find some aspect of my incredibly adventurous lifestyle to report on. You can see a couple articles I originally did for Invalid Opinions below.