John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Review: Ubisoft’s Battle Tag

Another one of my video game reviews went on the Canadian Press wire today.

This time was slightly different though. Although the game was produced by Ubisoft, a well-know video game developer, "Battle Tag" is a toy, albeit one that plugs in to your home computer.

I had a blast lot of fun writing this piece. How could I not? After all, I got to play laser tag with my fiancee and got paid for it. Anyway, follow the link below to read the whole thing for yourself.

"Motion capture technology in video games has been a theme this holiday season.

Platforms like the XBox and PlayStation 3 have put out new peripherals with motion sensitive controllers or cameras, forcing gamers to get up off the couch and get physically active.

Ubisoft's "Battle Tag" takes this trend a step further, using a home computer as an automated umpire that organizes and scores laser tag games for kids." - from the Winnipeg Free Press


Review: Civilization V

Otto von Bismark is just one of the 18 world leaders you can play as or against in Sid Meier's Civilization V.

Last week I finished writing a review of Sid Meier's Civilization V for the Canadian Press. It was picked up by a lot of news outlets including,, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Guelph Mercury, the Winnipeg Free Press, 570 News, Sympatico's Sync, the Medicine Hat News, 680 News and Yahoo! Canada.

I was pretty pleased with the finished product, although props have to go to editor Neil Davidson for adding some spit and polish to the finished product.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I love writing my own reviews, but hopefully I'll be able to do more video game review in the near future.

Please follow the links above or below to read the whole piece.

Minutes become hours that bleed into days with "Sid Meier's Civilization V."

The latest instalment of the classic PC game casts the player as the leader of a Stone Age society tasked with guiding a nation to the heights of civilization.

"Just one more turn" is an unofficial motto of "Civilization V" players, as they plot their nation's progress city-by-city and develop social policies, trade routes and technologies. Waiting for the responses of enemies and allies creates a compulsive need to play more and more.


Graphic Novel Review – Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Um, wrong Scott Pilgrim.

Hello. My name is John and I’m a male comic book fan from Toronto.... and, um, I don’t really like the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.

I know, that’s total heresy to some people, but it’s true. I do not enjoy the series. Although I enjoyed the film starring  local hipster hunk Michael Cera, I just can’t get into the graphic novels, try as I might. They’re just not my bag.

For the uninitiated: Scott Pilgrim is about the blossoming relationship between the titular hero and his American sweetheart Ramona Flowers. To win the day and the girl, all Scott needs to do is get a job, mature as a person and, oh yeah, defeat her seven evil exes in fights to the death.

The books are heavily influenced by anime, comic books and especially video games. Scott’s band is called “Sex Bob-omb”, combining Tom Jones with one of the more obscure villains from the Super Mario games. There’s a lot to like in that concept, but it just never clicked for me.

This isn’t about going against the grain either. I’m not saying I dislike it just to fly in the face of indy scenesters everywhere. I was actually on board with the series pretty early on. In fact, when I was in undergrad I worked at a very large bookstore in downtown Toronto one of my co-workers was wild about Scott Pilgrim.

When she learned that I was a fellow comic book nerd she insisted I catch up on the series - at that point only three of the six books had come out – and so I dutifully bought the first volume (Scott Pilgrim’s Previous Little Life) and demolished it in about 30 minutes of dock-side reading at a cottage.

There was certainly a lot to like about the book. It had its funny moments, particularly the climactic battle with Matthew Patel, and the characters had some charm. As a young man in Toronto working in a mind-numbing retail job, I had some sympathy for Scott.

Unfortunately, it was also crowded with too many of Scott’s friends and peers, and O’Malley’s artwork wasn’t sophisticated enough to make it clear who was who. Characters bled together on the page and in my mind.

Also, although I could I identify with some aspects of his life, Scott is the kind of person I’ve got little patience for in real life. He’s directionless, insensitive and oblivious to his surroundings. His friends are huffy and prone to inexplicable bouts of anger while hating their dead-end jobs.

If they were real people, I’d go out of my way to avoid them.

So after that first book I gave up on the series and moved on. When inevitably confronted by a hysteric Pilgrim-fan - they are legion in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood - I’d politely shy away from the subject and explain I was really behind on my reading.

Sight gags like this are great, but they're not enough to redeem these books.

But the film trailers grabbed my attention and I went to see the Edgar Wright-directed movie on opening weekend. After all, it’s a movie that prominently features my hometown and I’m a sucker for all things Toronto.

It was smart, fun and moved quickly. The acting, particularly Cera in the title role and Kieran Culkin as his roommate Wallace Wells, was sharp and witty. I loved it.

That experience, coupled with reports from many friends that the art and writing improved with each book made me think I should give the series a second chance. I borrowed the remaining volumes from the library  -Wychwood Branch, a prominent location in the series - and see if the books could redeem themselves.

Well, they didn’t. I still didn’t really like any of the books.

Although I got a better handle on who all the characters were, many were still incredibly whiny. There were too many throwaway scenes, too many pages of Scott lying around on his couch in a sulk. Characters fly into rages for no apparent reason, storming off dramatically to prove their invisble point.

I hated that kind of histrionics when I was in my early 20s, and I’m not keen to re-live it in graphic novel form.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some positives in these books. As far as a coming-of-age story, Scott Pilgrim is very good. There is a real sense of maturation in our hero and he really does develop into a more sensitive and thoughtful person. His complex relationship with Ramona is handled by O’Malley with a deft touch and there is much to be learned from both of them.

The books are also occasionally entertaining. There are pages and scenes that are legitimately funny and seeing stores, restaurants and clubs that I’m intimately familiar with printed on the page never really got old. But all that isn’t enough to overcome some of the deep flaws in this series.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series is a fine entry point to the world of graphic novels, but there are at least a dozen other books that a neophyte fan could start with that would be more satisfying. It’s probably best to just watch the Michael Cera movie and then seek out recommendations that are like the books.


Stadium Review: Citifield

Sitting in the bleachers at Citifield, home of the New York Mets, is a world away from watching a game across the East River at Yankee Stadium.

Just getting there takes 45 minutes by subway train, taking you far from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the relatively open space of Queens. Given its proximity to LaGuardia airport, the drone of planes is in constant competition with the organ as opposed to the bass-heavy hip-hop and rock played by the Yankees.

Most striking of all, the atmosphere is friendly and family-oriented. It's hard to believe that it's the same city.

Although the exterior to Citifield is rather bland, the interior has an eclectic, retro-feel. The seating sections are layered on top of each other and crammed into odd angles, although the seats themselves still have lots of leg room.

The Jackie Robinson Rotunda serves as the main entrance to Citifield and is lined with inspiring quotes from the Hall of Famer.

Spaces like the Jackie Robinson Rotunda tie the history of the Mets to the Brooklyn Dodgers, their spiritual ancestors of in the National League. That retro vibe translates well into Citifield’s concourses that are full of modern concessions modelled to look like traditional ballpark stands.

I attended New York’s heartbreaking 8-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on July 5th.  Since the Mets hadn’t played on Independence Day, the stadium was in full patriotic splendour.  Although the Yankees had a stirring tribute to Lou Gehrig the day before, as well as the traditional singing of God Bless America, the Mets topped them in their Fourth of July celebrations.

Before the opening pitch at Citifield they had members of the U.S.O. singing the anthems of the various divisions of the American armed forces. Then they had a Lieutenant-General swear a group of recruits into the army.

During every stoppage of play they ran video of soldiers from Queens and Brooklyn in Iraq and Afghanistan greeting their families who’d been given seats at the game. It was a touching and heartfelt display, and really illustrated the connection between the Mets, their fans and those serving overseas.

That’s what was nice about the entire Citifield experience – it really balances the old and new and emphasizes the connection between the Mets and their fans in the boroughs of New York City.

Also, as a relatively neutral observer, they succeeded in drawing me in to the game and I found myself rooting for the home team despite myself.

Although Yankee Stadium has more history and significance behind it, as a venue for watching a baseball game I’d take Citifield any day of the week.