Thursday, 26 February 2015
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.
2014 saw a return to form for the Donmar Warehouse, with Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus taking our Debbie for best production. Elsewhere the astonishing success of the Punchdrunk theatre company's The Drowned Man continued before finally coming to an end over the summer.
The year ahead has a number of very exciting stage events coming up. For obvious reasons, this list will be primarily focused on the London stage, but we do have a few productions elsewhere that are so noteworthy as to warrant inclusion. So here's our list of the top 5 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2015, starting with number 5:
5. "Constellations" by Nick Payne, at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre
Originally debuted three years ago at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Nick Payne's Constellations is one of the very best productions in recent years. It's incredible success now sees it moving to Broadway, the Samuel J Friedman Theatre in New York.
Constellations is effectively a play about relationships, mixed in with a little string-theory and quantum physics. Sound like too much? It's more accessible than it sounds. Constellations takes the base premise, boy-meets-girl, and from that point branches out into a seemingly infinite array of possible outcomes, alternate stories and what-if scenarios. Sometimes the change can be as simple as slightly different wording, but the changes promulgate from there, highlighting the fragility of relationships and the frightening spectre of how much can hinge on such small details.
The Broadway version stars a genuine Hollywood star in Jake Gyllenhaal, who co-stars with Ruth Wilson. This is an absolute must see production if you're in New York.
4. "Oppenheimer" by Tom Morton-Smith, at The Swan
The RSC's latest production hits The Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-avon this month. Oppenheimer, as you may have guessed, is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and how the Atomic Bomb was built, starting in 1939 and taking us right through World War II.
Director Angus Jackson and star John Heffernan have been getting a lot of buzz for this production, but the real star is playwright Tom Morton-Smith, who's script is not afraid to explore the conflicted nature of the man who brought the world it's most terrifying invention.
Light on the science and terminology, Oppenheimer is nevertheless ambitious insight into a pivotal moment of 20th Century history. So far the production has been getting rave reviews. Very recommended.
3. "City of Angels" by Larry Gelbart, Cy Coleman and David Zippel, at the Donmar Warehouse
If there's one thing that always makes for compelling theatre, it's stories about stories. The musical City of Angels is not new, having initially hit the West End a good 20 years ago, but it's witty lyrics and vibrant insight into the world of Hollywood is still massively good fun. Glamorous, retro flash, red hair, lavish parties, City of Angels is a production that never fails to entertain.
Notable among the cast is Samantha Barks of Les Miserables fame, both on the stage and in Tom Hooper's film adaption. As always her voice is remarkable and stands out even among a strong cast.
This marks a strong start to the year for the Donmar. Everyone loves a musical, and we've seen few better than this in many years. Here's an opportunity to catch one that isn't just tourist-bait, a top notch production, so do your best to catch it while it's still open.
2. "Man and Superman" by George Bernard Shaw, at the National Theatre
Man and Superman sees the seminal, provocative classic of legendary thinker George Bernard Shaw reinvented for the stage in stunning fashion.
One of the few genuine rom-com epics, if such a genre exists, Man and Superman deals with political radicalism, heaven and hell, and takes you to the furthest extremes of a man's psyche.
The National Theatre's new adaptation stars the always versatile Ralph Fiennes, known for a variety of theatre and film roles, most recently in Wes Anderson's acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great actor, some of the best source material around, being done by one of the best production companies in the theatre business; this is going to be huge.
Man and Superman opens on February 25th in the Lyttleton theatre, and it will sell out, so grab a ticket while you can.
1. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, at the Barbican
In 2015 there is simply no comparison. William Shakespeare's most famous tragedy Hamlet is coming back to the stage, courtesy of the Barbican theatre.
The headline grabbing news is that former theatre stalwart, now Hollywood megastar Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the lead role. Two days ago he was in the Dolby theatre for the Oscars, now he's back in London preparing for the theatrical event of the year.
Hamlet doesn't start until the fall, but these sold out on day 1, so you'll have a devil of a time trying to grab a ticket, but if you do you will surely be the envy of the entire London theatre crowd.
So there you have it folks: The 2015 Hot List. Here's to a fantastic year, and the Hot List will return in 2016!
Sunday, 22 February 2015
Today we take a quick break from our Hot List of 2015 series to bring you a last minute preview regarding the Academy Awards ceremony this weekend.
This Sunday, Hollywood's famous Dolby Theatre will once again play host to the biggest day on the cinema calendar, the Oscars. People all over the world will tune in for that most tragically popular of pastimes, celebrity watching, followed by four hours of forced laughs and real tears.
The host for this year will be the frighteningly charismatic Neil Patrick Harris, a marked improvement on the uninspired safe option of Ellen Degeneres last year. Fully expect to see a few musical numbers in the opening monologue.
As always, we give you our loyal readers some predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through tinseltown; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.
- American Sniper
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
And the winner: Birdman
A rare situation here where we have a virtual toss up between Birdman and Boyhood. Boyhood had been considered the runaway favourite to land the Oscar pretty much all year (undeservedly so), but awards season so far has not been kind, in particular with the Producer's Guild and Director's Guild both plumping for Birdman. With a close contest here we're going to rely on the precedent of awards won so far, in which case Birdman (deservedly) will win the best picture prize.
- Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
- Richard Linklater - Boyhood
- Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
- Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game
And the winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
Winning the Director's Guild award makes Inarritu a virtual lock for the best director's gong, and it's hard to imagine a more deserving winner. Birdman stands out for it's production flair and it's single-camera shot style. Truly remarkable filmmaking from a technical standpoint.
- Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
- Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
- Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
- Michael Keaton - Birdman
- Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
And the winner: Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Another total toss up, this time between Keaton and Redmayne. Keaton has been the favourite for most of the year, and without doubt he would deserve it for his fantastic turn in Birdman, but we think this year has Redmayne written all over it. Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking is nothing short of stunning, an incredibly challenging role pulled off better than we could ever have imagined. The Ephemeric is pleased to give this one to our fellow old Etonian Eddie Redmayne.
- Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
- Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
- Julianne Moore - Still Alice
- Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
- Reese Witherspoon - Wild
And the winner: Julianne Moore - Still Alice
No contest here, Julianne Moore is widely expected to win for this turn as a mother of three suffering from early onset alzheimer's disease. Pretty much the definition of Academy Award trope, but good for her she's a fine actress.
Best Supporting Actor
- Robert Duvall - The Judge
- Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
- Edward Norton - Birdman
- Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
- J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
And the winner: J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
A contest brimming with great performances. Ethan Hawke and Ed Norton are both fantastic and would full deserve an award, but this year it's a no contest. J.K. Simmons will win and it's hard to see anyone disagreeing, his is arguably the most impressive performance out of any of the four categories, and he will rightly get his due.
Best Supporting Actress
- Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
- Laura Dern - Wild
- Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
- Emma Stone - Birdman
- Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
And the winner: Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Finally an Oscar for Boyhood. All the buzz about Boyhood has been on the 12 year filming schedule and the strong child performances, but really the most remarkable thing about it is the performance of Patricia Arquette, whose character over 12 years bears the full consequences of youthful impulse and regret in a way that few on-screen characters have.
Best Original Screenplay
- Birdman - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
- Boyhood - Richard Linklater
- Foxcatcher - E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
- Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy
And the winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
For our money this is one of the few awards which Boyhood truly deserves to win. Forming a screenplay intended to be filmed out over the decades is an incredibly audacious and daunting task, and one which by its nature must have required constant revision and on-the-fly adjustments, and yet still comes out as a cohesive work. However we think the Academy will go for Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. The Academy clearly loves the movie, bestowing it with the joint highest number of nominations along with Birdman, and yet there aren't many awards it looks likely to win. Budapest will pick this one up as a consolation.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- American Sniper - Jason Hall
- The Imitation Game - Graham Moore
- Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson
- The Theory of Everything - Anthony McCarten
- Whiplash - Damien Chazelle
And the winner: Whiplash - Damien Chazelle
Using the same logic as above, one would come to the conclusion that The Imitation Game will win this Oscar, and that may very well be the result. However we're going to swing with our gut instinct on this one and say that Damien Chazelle's Whiplash script is the deserving winner here.
So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go exactly as we have predicted, remember that you heard it here first!
Friday, 20 February 2015
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, the essential new television, and the essential new movies in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2015.
2014 was undeniably a weak year for gaming. The major titles were disappointing, most notably Destiny, while the most promising of the new wave of crowdfunded indie developed games ended up slipping past new year. Indeed "early access" is starting to become something of a dirty word in the eyes of many gamers, as indie developers increasingly turn to early access in search of funding, only to become permanently mired in a state of "well let's just add one more feature" without the pressure to ever actually push a full release. There's a real danger here, and evidently something of a learning curve for developers in this new mode of distribution.
Elsewhere 2014 was also the first full year of the new console generation, with the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U all now available for sale in most regions. It is understandable then that these new systems would exhibit some teething problems, and the typical drought of high quality software that accompanies new console launches. Certainly this played a big part of 2014's videogame mediocrity. 2015 Will be a big year then for all the main players to push on and consolidate their market position. The big exception here is Nintendo, who in 2014 had probably the company's strongest year in a long time, with major titles like Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros releasing to critical and commercial success. Again, this is hardly surprising given that the Wii U has been around longer than its competitors.
2015 then has the potential to be very exciting indeed as the new console generation settles down further, and we finally start to enjoy the fruits of the new kickstarter wave of gaming. So behold, the top 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:
15. Doom 4 (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac)
We start with the news just in this week that Bethesda have announced their first ever press conference at the annual E3 games show in Los Angeles. This means they have something major to reveal.
The most likely subject of this conference is the latest sequel in the venerated Doom series, with Bethesda having bought the ownership of this IP in 2009, and teased at it's existence during last year's show behind closed doors.
Doom is of course one of the most famous videogames series of all time, known as the grandfather of the entire first person shooter genre, and in many ways, 3D perspective gaming as a whole.
Little is known about this game except that it will run on the new idTech6 engine, and feature many of the somewhat old fashioned gameplay features that were characteristic of the original games. This has been in development for quite a while, so if it is revealed at E3 then expect a release sometime towards the end of the year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
14. RollerCoaster Tycoon World (PC)
The return of another much celebrated franchise. RollerCoaster Tycoon World is the latest entry of one of the biggest cult hit series in the entire industry.
As with the other games in the series, players design and manage a theme park, with the ability to place shops, rides, scenery and most notably design roller coasters down to the very small details. The game will be from a 3D perspective much like RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, as opposed to the 2D isometric view of the first two games, while new features include the ability to ride your rides from a first person perspective.
Atari have somewhat dug a hole for themselves on this one, with the now infamous mobile-only version of the game, titled as RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 being announced before the full PC version. This much maligned turd of a game was rammed full of absurd microtransactions, becoming pretty much a parody of the worst examples of the cliche of manipulative mobile games that are such a blight on the platform. Such was the outcry and critical panning of this title that Atari had to announce the full PC version ahead of schedule and rebrand it as RollerCoaster Tycoon World in order to avoid association with the previous debacle.
The real concern here is that Atari have lost a lot of goodwill by abusing the franchise in this way, and that will put a lot of people off buying this game. It will be interesting to see if they can recover by the time the game launches early this year.
Release Date: Early 2015
13. No Man's Sky (PS4, PC, Mac)
No Man's Sky is one of the most astonishingly technically ambitious games ever made. It is a space exploration game which features a procedurally generated universe built around a 64bit number processor. This means 18 quintillion possible planets to explore. Each planet features animal and plant life which is also procedurally generated. Players can seamlessly fly from planet to planet, get out of their ship and walk around.
Beyond that, little is known about the actual purpose or gameplay, and frankly it doesn't matter. This is a game that will offer a fully explorable universe with far more variation than any one person could ever hope to see in their lifetime. But the really astonishing thing is that this is all being programmed by just four people.
How can such a small development team possibly realize such a staggeringly ambitious concept that far bigger and more experienced teams have never been able to achieve before? Well we will soon find out, with the game set for release sometime in 2015. For the time being all we can say is that the game looks great, definitely one to keep an eye on.
Release Date: TBA 2015
12. Cuphead (Xbox One, PC, Mac)
One of the most unique indie games to be announced in recent years. Cuphead is an old-school 2D platform game on first glance, but the selling point is it's wonderful art style.
Inspired by early cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s, particularly the likes of Steamboat Willie and the earliest Walt Disney cartoons, Cuphead stands out immediately when you see it. The game looks and feels just like you're watching something that's been animated and drawn by hand. It's quite stunning to see in motion, using the best in modern graphics techniques to create something that looks authentically retro.
The gameplay itself is just classic run and gun platforming. The question is will it play as good as it looks? We will have to wait and see, but it should be releasing by this summer on digital download platforms.
Release Date: TBA 2015
11. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS)
The Ephemeric has a policy, that we just made up, not to put re-releases and ports of old games on this list. However, when that game is one of the greatest of all time, certain exceptions can be made. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D falls into that category.
Originally released in the shadow of its landmark genre-defining cousin Ocarina of Time, many now consider Majora's Mask to be the greater of the two. Majora's Mask realized its game world in a way that few other games ever had by that point, full of living, breathing characters, every single one of whom had a purpose and a place to be depending on the passage of time. Arguably the main quest even takes backseat to the extensive and complex sidequests based around exploring and observing the world itself and its bizarre, mysterious denizens.
Majora's Mask 3D is a faithful remake of the original, with moderately updated graphics and a few gameplay tweaks to streamline some of the rougher design elements of the original. For anyone who never played the original, this presents a good opportunity to give it a go, for longtime fans a nice walk down memory lane.
Release Date: February 14th 2015
10. Hearts of Iron IV (PC, Mac)
Paradox are on a roll right now. For years they have labored away on their absurdly complex historical strategy games like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, and for years they've been largely ignored. With Crusader Kings 2 Paradox finally struck the commercial big time with a golden blend of rewarding depth and accessible gameplay, and Europa Universalis IV followed suit. Their next release aims to conjure up the same magic for another one of their franchises, with Hearts of Iron IV.
For newcomers, Paradox specialise in sandbox style grand strategy games. What makes a Paradox title stand out from say Total War is the dedication to meaningful complexity. These simulations are about more than just armies fighting one another, and fully model diplomacy, personal politics, culture, economy, and countless other variables which ensure that each game world is utterly unique to the player, and completely engrossing, while allowing a staggering array of gameplay options to pursue. The Hearts of Iron series specifically applies this ethos to a 20th Century, World War I and II setting.
If Paradox can make Hearts of Iron as accessible as they have their other series, then this will be another golden strategy title for players to sink their teeth and time into. Release date has not been confirmed but is believed to be late in the second quarter of this year.
Release Date: Summer 2015
9. Cities: Skylines (PC, Mac)
Another Paradox game, this time the developer has its sights set on the city building genre. Anyone who has ever played such a game before will be familair with Cities: Skylines. Players zone for construction, add utilities and services, set budgets, and if you do your job, the city flourishes.
But there's another aspect that makes this game worth watching. Cities: Skylines appears to be very deliberately positioning itself as the antidote to EA's now infamous Sim City 5 debacle, who's recent watered down iteration of the beloved franchise drew universal scorn and derision.
Paradox have made a point of marketing the different approaches in game design. Vast maps available for city design replace the laughably tiny hamlet-sized plots in Sim City 5, gone are the forced social features, and crucially the game will not require a pointless and frustrating always-online internet connection. In short, whereas Sim City 5 appeared to be a soulless Facebook-style version of the genre, Cities: Skylines is intended to be a serious city simulation game, just like the golden age of Sim City's gone by.
The question remains, is spite for Sim City 5 enough of a reason to buy a game? It might very well be that when all is said and done, 2003's Sim City 4 (from before EA went full moron) is still the best in genre and no upgrade is necessary. We will see in March when the game launches.
Release Date: March 10th 2015
8. Starbound (PC, Mac)
A remnant from last year's list, Chucklefish Games' hugely ambitious crowdfunded indie title Starbound ultimately never saw release in 2014, but recent updates seem to confirm that a 2015 release is (hopefully) on the cards.
Starbound is essentially a block-building game in the mold of Minecraft or Terraria, featuring a procedurally generated universe with a near infinite number of planets, each of which is the size of Terraria's entire world. Each planet has its own environment and it's own procedurally generated plant and animal life, making each one completely unique. Players explore these planets, mine for materials, and can build whatever they can imagine. Starbound additionally adds a lot of structure and narrative that we typically haven't seen from other games in the genre. There's a quest system, and a fully crafted backstory, and every planet is full of secrets to discover and NPC characters to meet.
The scale of universe that this design creates is unparalleled in gaming, and allows players to play in pretty much any manner they choose. A player can assemble a team (either singleplayer with NPCs or multiplayer) and explore the universe hopping from planet to planet, or build huge houses, military bases, farms, shops, cities, theme parks, anything they can imagine (and the creativity seen in the work the community has produced so far during the alpha testing is remarkable), the possibilities are limited only by the player's imagination. This is something no game has ever fully achieved, and if Starbound manages to pull it of, the result will be something very memorable indeed.
Starbound is available in it's very basic alpha state on PC and Mac, but the full version is expected by the end of this year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
7. Hover: Revolt of Gamers (Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac)
The game in question this time is Hover: Revolt of Gamers, a title which speaks for itself in light of the previous blurb. Hover is best described as a spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio, a game series which was hailed as one of the best of its generation with its unique style and innovative gameplay, but has since been completely forgotten by studios who would rather publish a dozen Call of Duty clones.
Hover takes the eye-popping cell-shaded art style and physics of the series and puts it into a game which sees players free-running through vast futuristic cityscapes as part of an underground resistance completing tasks to help various people out. If that doesn't sound enough like Jet Set Radio already then the cherry on top is the hiring of composer/DJ Hideki Naganuma, who's unforgettable soundtracks were probably the best part of the Jet Set Radio games.
Only a limited amount of gameplay footage has been released on top of a selection of concept art, but development appears to be on track for a release in late 2015. Hover certainly has the look, sound and feel of Jet Set Radio, if it turns out to be even half as good then we're in for a special game.
Release Date: TBA 2015
6. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac)
One of the more notable Kickstarter success stories. Kingdom Come: Deliverance started with a simple premise. Publishers refuse to release games set in medieval times unless it features magic, dragons and silly things like this, why not make a game in a realistic medieval setting?
That's the idea behind Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A roleplaying game set in 15th Century Bohemia, with period-accurate clothing, technology, culture, and even going so far as to bring in medieval experts and historians to program realistic tactics and fighting styles. But this is not just a period combat simulator, it is a truly sandbox world in which players can pursue their goals as a warrior, a trader, or take a more diplomatic approach.
Depending on how these different gameplay elements come together this could be a very unique experience. There aren't enough games that display an interest in real history and show the kind of attention to truly bring alive such a setting. All the signs so far are that Warhorse Studios are very committed to this vision, and judging by the millions of dollars raised there are a lot of gamers who are too. The title is set for release by this winter.
Release Date: Winter 2015
5. Fire Emblem If (3DS)
Amid all the talk of Nintendo consoles and the big money franchises of Mario and Zelda, it may come as a surprise to hear that arguably the greatest game on the Nintendo 3DS system comes from the little known Fire Emblem franchise.
Indeed the franchise, while always moderately successful in Japan, had fared so badly with western audiences that Nintendo were on the verge of telling the development team to give up and put the franchise on the scrap heap. With one chance remaining, Fire Emblem Awakening blew away every expectation that Nintendo had, earning critical and commercial success in every territory, with sales outstripping those of any earlier iteration by many orders of magnitude. Awakening not only saved the franchise, but propelled it to the status of one of Nintendo's biggest properties.
Now comes the difficult follow up, Fire Emblem If. For the first time the series carries a weight of expectation. Was Awakening just lightning in a bottle, or will those new fans stick around? The game is due for release on the 3DS this fall, so we shall soon find out.
Release Date: Fall 2015
4. Star Fox Wii U (Wii U)
Now here's a big event in gaming. The highly anticipated and mystifyingly delayed return of the Star Fox franchise. Even though Nintendo consider Star Fox to be one of their most prominent homegrown IPs, it has been bizarrely underutilised. Indeed aside from a few handheld games, there hasn't been a proper Star Fox game since 2005, and even then it wasn't a fully fledged, in-house version. Incredibly, Nintendo themselves haven't made a real flagship Star Fox game since the days of the Nintendo 64.
According to franchise (and indeed most other Nintendo franchise) creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the reason has been difficulty to nail down the best way to take advantage of the unique Wii hardware in the context of a Star Fox game. But now, with the Wii U's unique gamepad, inspiration has finally struck, and a new Star Fox game is on the way sometime this year.
As with the classic entries in the series the game will be focused on aerial combat, using the new gamepad's gyroscopic controls and second-screen functionality to shake up the way players target enemies. Word on the street is the basic structure of the game will be radically different from the archetype, featuring an episodic structure likened to a TV show, and side quests which are in some way linked to as yet mysterious projects known as Project Giant Robot and Project Guard.
It will be interesting to see how this all comes together when the game releases, rumoured to be sometime this fall.
Release Date: Fall 2015
3. The Legend of Zelda Wii U (Wii U)
Nintendo are really cleaning up this year, but by far the most hyped of their many mega-franchises has got to be The Legend of Zelda, and a new one, the first original entry to the series on the Wii U, is set for release in 2015.
Little is known about the game so far, except that it will be the first original Zelda to be designed in HD, and that it will take heavy inspiration from The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, specifically with regards to adopting a grand, open, freely explorable sandbox overworld.
The new Zelda is being designed with the idea to allow players real freedom in how they explore and complete quests. Just how that translates into the Zelda format is anyone's guess at the moment, but Nintendo's demo footage makes a point of showing us a vast, rolling mountainscape and telling us that any point we can see, we can visit. Zelda is truly one of the grandest of classic games franchises, and if they can combine the magic of older games with the technical marvels of open-world games like Skyrim, then the result could be something special.
No release date set in stone, except that it will be in 2015, and will be after Star Fox, so probably a winter/Xmas release.
Release Date: Winter 2015
2. Kerbal Space Program (PC, Mac)
Another on the list of recent indie hits from a game that studios wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Kerbal Space Program is not only one of the most unique games in years, but one of the most addictive.
It started out more as a tech demo than an actual game from developers Squad; players design spaceships modeled on quasi-realistic NASA style components, roughly comparable in technology and aesthetic to what we have today, and take them on missions. Layered over this is a remarkably accurate model of interplanetary physics; you won't just point your rocket and fire engines, you have to take into account gravity, orbit, exit and entry, proapsis and apoapsis. The final version adds a full campaign mode, a scientific technology tree, and much more.
For non rocket scientist gamers it may seem a bit daunting at first, but the open-ended, experimental nature of the game, married with the cartoony and lovable artistic style and adventurous sense of scale make for one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming today. You'll marvel and feel a real sense of accomplishment as you achieve stable orbit for the first time, as you complete your first moon landing, and as you experiment with space stations, land rovers and many other possibilities.
That we have sunk so many hours into a game that's not even really a game yet, but rather a giant sandbox illustrates just how remarkable this project is. Currently at version 0.9 of beta, the final game should be ready to play on PC and Mac OS X by Spring 2015.
Release Date: Spring 2015
1. Fallout 4 (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
We started with Bethesda, and we're finishing with Bethesda. No one really believes that they would announce their first ever E3 conference just to announce a single game, one that had already been announced and talked about at length previously. No, Bethesda are going to announce something new, something big that will make headlines. With an Elder Scrolls game still fresh in people's memories there's only one big franchise on their roster that's about due for a sequel. Fallout 4.
The Fallout series started life as a top-down RPG in the 90s, a darkly comedic twist on post-war American 1950s pop-culture/propaganda and its optimistic view of the "wonders of the atomic age". Fallout ironically imagines a world where all the atomic powered flying cars, robot butlers, and other promises came true, but so did the less tantalizing aspects of atomic power, nuclear war. The Fallout series invariably then sees players exploring a crumbling nuclear wasteland, full of camp sci-fi/retro aesthetic and dark humour. It makes for one of the most unique and brilliantly fun gameworlds ever designed.
When Bethesda took over they transitioned to a first person RPG in the same style as their Elder Scrolls games, but it has now been a good five years since the most recent entry in the series, Fallout: New Vegas. Something has been cooking all this time. Exactly what that is is a complete guess at this point, although rumours suggest the setting this time to be the Boston/Massachusetts area.
Quite when we'll see Fallout 4, if it's even released in 2015, is a mystery, but following the precedent from previous Bethesda releases, as well as the relatively long incubation period the game as thus far seen, we could be seeing this one in time for Xmas.
Release Date: TBA 2015
So there you have it folks: 2015 in videogames. Tune in next week for the final edition of the 2015 Hot List, covering the essential theatrical productions set for release this year!
Sunday, 1 February 2015
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List. We hope you enjoyed last week's entry covering the essential television in 2015. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting new music set to hit the airwaves in the coming year.
2014 was what some might call a quiet year for music. Most of the big acts stayed on the sidelines, and the once that didn't like Coldplay or Damon Albarn, all turned out to be slightly disappointing. What it lacked in AAA clout however it made up for in fresh ideas, with some very promising new musicians and debut albums. RAC and Electric Youth both wowed critics on their first attempt.
The year ahead could not be looking more different. While promising debuts are in fresh supply, 2015 is going to belong to the returning favourites. We've got some big names working on new material this year, and The Ephemeric can't wait to share them with you. So here's our list of the top albums to keep an eye on in 2015, starting with number 15:
15. "Kintsugi" by Death Cab For Cutie
One of those bands that seems to have been around forever, Death Cab For Cutie are something of an institution for people who were in their formative years in the early new millennium.
A critical and commercial success with such hits to their name as Marching Bands of Manhattan, I will follow you into the dark, and Transatlanticism, their newest album Kintsugi appears to be something of a reinvention of the band's style. While the band's most well known member, vocalist Benn Gibbard, remains ever constant, outgoing is founding band member Chris Walla, and incoming is new producer Rich Costey, who has previously worked with bands like Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, and Weezer.
If lead single Black Sun is anything to go by, then the result is something that is recognisably Death Cab, but with more of edge to it and fewer of the high school pop trappings that they have stuck to for two decades. A bit of a shake up can only be a good thing, with recent decent, but lacklustre albums causing many to declare that the band is in a rut.
Kintsugi comes out this Spring, keep an eye out.
Release Date: March 31st 2015
14. "The Scene Between" by The Go! Team
Brighton's enigmatic The Go! Team are the sort of band of whom many more people will recognise the music than the name. Essentially the work of one man, producer/songwriter Ian Parton, The Go! Team have found success in their unique brand of idiosyncratic pop, which takes influence from just about any genre, from hip hop to pop to bollywood to sample-based electro-swing.
Their repertoire ranges from commercially and critically successful traditional pop to dizzying instrumental-only tracks, and frequently have been used for backing audio and in media. The most recognisable of their hits include Ladyflash, Everyone's a VIP to someone, and Huddle Formation.
The group's fourth album The Scene Between is coming up, and allegedly it may be their final album. If it is then Parton wants to go out with a bang. The album's bombastic lead single The Scene Between seems destined to become a radio favourite this Spring and summer.
Release Date: March 25th 2015
13. "Lucid Dreaming" by Say Lou Lou (New band)
A remnant from our 2014 list, Say Lou Lou's debut album Lucid Dreaming was originally expected to drop sometime last year, but ultimately got pushed back to 2015. But now it will finally release, and has a date set sometime in February.
The duo's shimmering dream-pop has caught the attention of just about every industry insider and found it's way unanimously into all the most prominent 2014 and 2015 music previews. This time last year Say Lou Lou was arguably one of the most hyped bands in Europe, and there's still a great deal of excitement about this debut.
So far the signs are there that the hype is justified. Only a handful of songs have been revealed and they're all gorgeous, slow-burning pieces of music, beginning with their first single from a few years back Maybe You, and continuing with their more recent EP releases Better in the Dark and Julian.
Say Lou Lou's as yet untitled debut album is due this February, and the buzz is that they are set to make a massive impact on 2015.
Release Date: February 2015
12. Soak (New band)
A common feature on most 2015 music previews, Soak is the pseudonym of teenage sensation Bridie Monds-Watson. Despite her young age, Soak has toured with major acts such as Chvrches, George Ezra, and even performed at Glastonbury. She is headed for big things in 2015.
Soak specialises in soulful acoustic pop about teenage life and she's undoubtedly immensely talented. In particular everyone really needs to hear new single B a noBody.
If the rest of her debut album, due sometime later this year, is as good then it will be one of the more interesting debuts to look out for this year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
11. Charlie Belle (New band)
Another new band, this time from a big further afield. Charlie Belle, who hail from Austin Texas, are also a group of teenagers, but compared to Soak their sound could not possibly be more different.
One could be forgiven for being skeptical about a band of sunny teenagers, no doubt peddling some trashy Rebecca Black piece of irrelevance. The shock then is that Charlie Belle are really quite fantastic, writing songs with a maturity and style that could easily have been confused for 20something indie darlings.
In fact there is every possibility that Charlie Belle are one of the best new indie bands in many years. First single Get to know is a classic jaunty number that sounds like it could be written by Amy Macdonald or Stars, while the equally impressive Shake you off manages to combine the smokey indie swagger of Arctic Monkeys or The Smiths with the soulful American south.
No firm date has been given to their full LP, but their EP can be found on iTunes and all good music stores now. The full LP should be due later this year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
10. "Panda Bear meets the Grim Reaper" by Panda Bear
Panda Bear might be one of the most divisive artists alive today, both for his solo work and his work with the equally divisive Animal Collective, of which Panda Bear is a founding member and lead songwriter.
Panda Bear and Animal Collective have long been known in the music community for their audacious experimental sound that tends to be in equal parts "wow" and "wtf?", with songs such as Fireworks, and most famously My Girls. More recently Panda Bear's solo work has seen notable hits like Person Pitch, as well as collaborations with big names like Daft Punk in Doin' It Right.
New album Panda Bear meets the Grim Reaper sees no change from that pattern. The first two singles Boys Latin and Mr. Noah make that clear. These are songs that will confuse and bewilder as many people as they delight. Panda Bear's penchant is for music that sounds like it's from another planet; utterly unique, near incoherent, and strangely memorable.
Release Date: January 2015
9. "A Head Full of Dreams" by Coldplay
"But Coldplay only just released a new album a few months ago," We hear you say. And you would be correct, but bizarrely enough Coldplay are dead serious about releasing a new album already, titles A Head Full of Dreams.
Pretty terrible title, and can another album so soon after the last one really be of high enough quality? Many doubts linger.
However Coldplay have a more than good enough record of producing fine music to merit a place on the Hot List, after all Sky full of stars only just won the Debbie for best song of last year. But keep an eye on them this year in particular, as Head Full of Dreams appears quite possibly to be the last Coldplay album ever, if rumour is to be believed. Probably just a hype building marketing tool, but either way, you'll want to be around to find out.
Release Date: TBA 2015
8. Sunset Sons (New band)
A band with an interesting origin story. Sunset Sons started as a group of English tourists in Val D'Isère, united by their love of snowboarding and music. Once assembled they starting touring various venues around the Alps, and created such a buzz that before long the big record label execs were flying over just to hear them play.
Now with a new record deal with Polydor records, Sunset Sons' debut album is on the way and due for release sometime later in 2015. Early signs are good for some old fashioned, radio-friendly, soulful pop, the kind that seems to be all the rage at the moment. Lead singles She Wants and Remember have been received strongly so far and seemed destined for chart success.
In the meantime they can be found touring around Europe, but we will certainly be expecting to hear these guys on the radio a lot once that album drops.
Release Date: TBA 2015
7. "Gliss Riffer" by Dan Deacon
Baltimore legend Dan Deacon is about as far from mainstream as an artist can get. A writer of beautiful and astoundingly complex music, Deacon is especially known for his live gigs which are more like theatrical extravaganzas, often featuring audience participation in bizarre and creative ways.
Recent years have seen him touring with much more mainstream groups like Girl Talk and Arcade Fire, while recent album Bromst indicated a new turn towards the mainstream for Deacon, which much more radio-friendly songs like Snookered and Build Voice. But far more typical of the classic Deacon style would be tracks like the bewilderingly ambitious 11 minute epic Wham City.
The first track from Gliss Riffer, titled Feel the Lighting suggests that this new album will be a step further in the direction of accessibility, which can only be a good thing if it means more people will be able to appreciate the man's energy and creativity. The album releases in February, definitely one to watch.
Release Date: February 25th 2015
6. Låpsley (New band)
Another of the very much hyped debut acts for 2015, Låpsley is considered a real contender for the Brit Critics' Choice Award this year and it's easy to see why.
An 18 year old from Southport, Låpsley is a one-woman songwriting machine, writing, performing and producing all her own music. It's a rarity for anyone, let alone such a young girl. Her music itself is that most critically pleasing of understated, soulful pop; think Laura Mvula or The XX.
The debut album is due to come later this year, but so far her EP has given us a few good hints at what to expect. The best of the bunch is Station, a real treasure of a song. A big name to keep an eye out for this year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
5. Brandon Flowers
Another remnant from our 2014 list. The Killers may have cemented their position as one of pop music's megastar bands, but when frontman Brandon Flowers decided to bud off into solo work his debut album Flamingo was met with lukewarm reception.
With his notoriously off-the-wall creative stylings free from the shackles of his fellow band mates the result was as variable as one would expect. Some songs were a hit, like Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts and lead single Crossfire, while others smacked of pretention and over-the-top production, case and point: Only the Young.
In 2013 Flowers announced his intention to produce a follow up solo album while The Killers are on hiatus, but ultimately no album appeared in 2014. The latest word is that it is now definitely on for a release some time this summer. The good news is even if the album is no better than his first, that means it will still have at least one or two great songs on it.
Release Date: TBA 2015
4. "Goon" by Tobias Jesso Jr. (New band)
Tobias Jesso Jr. is one of the most exciting new artists we've heard in a while. And what a bizarre story it is for the young Canadian, who by all accounts had been a complete blow out on his first attempt at a musical career in LA. It was only after giving up and returning back home to Vancouver that his compositions started to take shape, and quickly he started to attract the attention of some of the biggest producers in the music industry.
Debut album Goon has a decidedly singer-songwriter sound to it, harkening back to a Harry Nilsson or Tom Petty. Give a listen to some of the early singles such as Hollywood and How Could you Babe, two excellent songs which on first listen could easily have come from any decade, such is their implacably "classic" style.
The new album is due for release in March, and the buzz is already pretty high for this debut.
Release Date: March 17th 2015
Metric's as yet untitled sixth studio album is due for release some time this year, and that's a very good thing.
The Canadian rockers have long been a jewel of the indie scene, and their last album Synthetica was truly underrated with great songs like Breathing Underwater to their name.
So far the only track revealed from their upcoming album is The Fatal Grift, which hints at a much more introspective, low-tempo approach to their new material. It remains to be seen whether this is indicative of the broader style of the album.
No word yet on a release date, so expect to see it sometime after the summer.
Release Date: TBA 2015
Damon Albarn is undoubtedly music royalty for his work he has done solo and with Blur, but it's arguably his side project Gorillaz which has garnered the most widespread success.
At the time of writing this Gorillaz have just announced their return, and their plans for a new album to be released in 2015, "phase 4" of the Gorillaz project as it were. Beyond this, details are thin at the moment (read: non-existent), but if it's half as good as the group's previous album Plastic Beach then we're in for a treat.
Gorillaz of course are known for their eclectic mix of styles, from hip hop to dance, and plenty more besides. Best known for tracks like 19-2000, Feel Good Inc, and On Melancholy Hill. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we await with real interest to see what crazy machinations Albarn and co come up with this time.
Release Date: TBA 2015
1. "Kindred" by Passion Pit
Which brings us to our choice for the number 1 most hotly anticipated album of 2015. This year there is no upcoming musical offering that excites us as much as the return of Passion Pit.
Few details have surfaced of the new album so far, aside from the name Kindred and this incredibly teasing 12 second trailer released through the band's YouTube. But such is the astounding quality of their first two albums and the preceding EP, with hits like It's not my fault I'm happy and Moths Wings, that there is simply no other album releasing in 2015 that we are looking forward to more.
The release date is set for some time in April, which means you'll be able to enjoy the latest from Passion Pit come Easter. We can't wait.
Release Date: April 2015
So there you have it folks: 2015 in music. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!
Thursday, 22 January 2015
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List. We hope you enjoyed our first entry in this year's Hot List covering the essential new films in 2015. This week we will be turning our attention to the year's line-up of television shows, in particular the brand new series starting in the next 12 months.
It's being increasingly accepted that today it is television, not film, that provides the best medium for storytelling. After all when you have a dozen hours in which to tell a story it allows for far greater depth and complexity than when you have just two. In 2014 this trend continue, with some of the best groundbreaking drama appearing on the small screen. Old favourite Breaking Bad might be gone, but it's place we had two newcomers in Fargo and True Detective, both of which have been met with critical acclaim. More and more we are seeing A-list actors and directors switching to TV and this trend will only increase in the year ahead, with several shows featuring all star, often Oscar winning casts, something that a few years ago would have been almost unthinkable.
Additionally the Netflix model of online streaming appears to be catching on with the traditional television networks, and plenty other companies besides. HBO, ABC, CBS are all pouring money into their own streaming equivalents, as are other more leftfield companies like Amazon and err... Tesco. Everyone and his dog seems to want their own Netflix now. More options can only be a good thing right? Wrong. If every network runs it's own distinct subscription service with it's own account that's a major administrative inconvenience on the consumer, not to mention the exclusive shows on each service that one will miss unless they sign up for each and every one of them. Costs could easily spiral out of control.
Both these game-changing factors will be key to what lies ahead in 2015, but whatever happens it seems reasonable to say that we are entering one of the most exciting eras in TV history. So without further ado here are the essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2015:
10. Telemark - FX (New TV Show)
A leftover from our list of last year, Telemark did not ultimately release in 2014, but was pushed back to the coming year. Telemark is a dramatized telling of the true story of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II and their attempts to sabotage the Nazi production of nuclear weapons.
This is of course the new TV project of Danny Boyle, the famed British director of Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. He will be joined by his frequent screenwriter collaborator Simon Beaufoy. With such talent attached to the project this is going to be one to keep an eye on.
Now that Danny Boyle has officially put pen to paper, this 10 part miniseries does look like it will finally hit the screen in 2015.
Release Date: TBA 2015
9. Parks and Recreation - NBC
Parks and Recreation keeps going from strength to strength as it enters it's final season. From it's unassuming beginnings it has now become one of television's most beloved comedies of recent years, with a cast that is now reaching the upper echelons of Hollywood.
Chris Pratt appears to be the man of the moment, while Amy Poehler is becoming a national institution. Parks and Recreation is certainly one of the smarter comedies on TV right now, brimming with light political humour and some of the most genuinely hilarious characters since The Office.
The final season will make for essential watching in 2015. It will be sad to see them go, but at the same there's wisdom in going out before it starts to get stale.
Release Date: January 2015
8. Westworld - HBO (New TV Show)
Now this one is interesting. Westworld is a remake of the old 1973 sci-fi western film written and directed by legendary author Michael Crichton.
This new adaptation will be scripted by Jonathan Nolan, quite the hot property in Hollywood now after writing the scripts for most of his brother Chris' films, as well as his own hit TV show Person of Interest. It's being developed by HBO, a network renowned for its high quality, with another big name JJ Abrams attached as producer. Meanwhile the impressive cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, and a number of other recognisable faces.
There's a lot of talent attached and a lot of buzz hyping this as one of the big television events of 2015. The Ephemeric reckons campy material like this is very difficult to pull off in a way that appeals to everyone. We'll see when the show launches later in 2015.
Release Date: Fall 2015
7. Archer - FX
One of the funniest shows on TV unsurprisingly returns for a sixth season, but with big changes this time around. Archer is that rare TV show that's big on belly laughs and chock full of references and subtext for more sophisticated humour.
After last year's bizarre reboot as Archer Vice, which saw the team transition from spy agency to drug cartel, things will be getting back to normal in the new year, which most will agree is probably a good thing. Interestingly the showrunners have decided to ditch the spy agency name "ISIS" for obvious reasons, word is they'll take the high road and not reference this on the show. Probably for the best.
Regardless of the setting, the show's trademark wit and satirical humour remain. The new season starts in January.
Release Date: January 2015
6. American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson - FX (New TV Show)
Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy are on a roll. First they created the high school TV show of a generation in Glee, then they redefined the mainstream horror genre with the wildly successful American Horror Story. Their newest creation American Crime Story is intended as a companion piece to the latter.
The charm of American Horror Story lies in each anthology's treatment of classic American horror folklore, breathing fresh life into old tropes. American Crime Story follows the same design but with regards to true crime stories. It is fitting then the show will start with the crime story that to this day is arguably the most embedded in the national psyche, the trial of OJ Simpson.
Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr takes the star role, and is supported by an all star cast that intriguingly includes John Travolta, David Schwimmer, and Sarah Paulson. The show is set to debut in late 2015.
Release Date: Late 2015
5. Wolf Hall - BBC (New TV Show)
Wolf Hall is an adaptation of the best selling Hilary Mantel novels covering the rise to power of Oliver Cromwell and the English Civil War.
This BBC miniseries will be told in six episodes, presumably leaving an ending open for a second season, considering the series of novels is not yet complete.
Old Etonian Damian Lewis of Homeland fame takes the role of King Henry the VIII while Mark Rylance will play Cromwell himself. The solid cast additionally includes Jonathan Pryce and Anton Lesser.
Early buzz is very positive. British TV has a penchant for high quality drama, and the source material doesn't come any better than Mantel's Wolf Hall. The show is set to start in the UK in January.
Release Date: January 2015
4. House of Cards - Netflix
It's still one of the best shows on TV (or Netflix anyway), and the best political TV show since the West Wing. Now House of Cards is back for a third and possibly final season.
Kevin Spacey et al return, fresh from the latest round of awards and accolades. There had been much speculation as to whether this season would even happen, but House of Cards has become a flagship of sorts, not only for this new wave of high quality, A-list drama, but for television streaming as a whole. It speaks volumes that the talent on this project are so keen to keep working on the show, they realise that they're involved in something special.
Once again all thirteen episodes will be released simultaneously in February.
Release Date: February 2015
3. Late Show with Stephen Colbert - CBS (New TV Show)
Arguably the biggest television event of 2015. After more than 30 years in late night TV, David Letterman is retiring from the Late Show. His replacement will be none other than Stephen Colbert, a comedian who has in recent years become one of the most venerated personalities in the media.
During his time at The Colbert Report, Colbert has created some of the most significant satire of this generation, building a reputation not only for great comedy, but for producing truly poignant and revelatory coverage of politics and current events.
Colbert clearly has big shoes to fill when he takes over the Late Show starting in September, but of all the personalities currently on TV it's hard to think of one more qualified than he.
Release Date: September 2015
2. 3001 - Syfy (New TV Show)
2015 will see a wave of new original programming from the awfully rebranded Syfy network. It's hard to say how good any of these shows will be given the lack of a proven track record, but one that has us pretty excited is the adaption of Arthur Clarke's novel 3001.
Stanley Kubrick's 2001, made concurrently with Arthur Clarke's novel, is widely regarded as a landmark film, but few are familiar with the sequel books that Clarke went on to write, including 2010, which was ultimately adapted into a less successful film, and the latter two 2061 and 3001. 3001 is the final chapter in the saga, and while many attempts have been made to adapt it and 2061, until now it hasn't managed to come together.
Few details have been revealed so far, but Ridley Scott is attached as producer. Such an ambitious and high profile project can be seen as a real statement of intent from Syfy. We'll be keeping a close eye on it.
Release Date: TBA 2014
1. Fargo - FX
One could be forgiven for being skeptical when FX announced their decision to take the classic, award-laden Coen Brothers film Fargo and turn it into a mini-series. But they proved everyone wrong. Far from a mere remake, Fargo goes in its own direction and is the better for it, while remaining as subversive and cuttingly witty as the film
Unsurprisingly after the show's glowing critical reception and multiple award wins, a second season is on the way. Season 2 looks set to be a 1970s-set prequel, with an entirely new cast including Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst, Nick Offerman, and Jesse Plemons.
It has yet to be seen just how this prequel miniseries will fit into the larger picture and relate to its debut season, but if it's half as good then there's reason for us all to be very excited.
Release Date: Fall 2015
So there you have it folks: 2015 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new music of the year!