Newcomers to the games industry, Spanish developer Pyro Studios expected to sell about 15,000 copies of their first game. Within six months of its release in June 1998, it had shifted a massive 900,000 copies and topped the charts in the UK and Germany for over a dozen weeks. For a stealth game, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines had made a big noise.
A confirmed surprise smash hit, Commandos instantly established Pyro as a studio to watch. Their polished execution of a novel and distinctive gameplay style made Commandos a template for a small but enduring wave of similar games; German studio Mimimi breathed new life into the subgenre as recently as 2016 with their excellent revival Shadow Tactics.
Soon, Liandri discovered that the public matches were their most profitable enterprise. The professional league was formed - a cabal of the most violent and skilled warriors in known space, selected to fight in a grand tournament...
The original 1999 Unreal Tournament has been a favourite game of mine since I picked up a copy of its "Game of the Year" edition in Toys 'R' Us for £10 - that is to say, for a very long time. As a kid, I was unaware of the fierce rivalry between fans of UT and Quake III as to which game deserved the deathmatch crown; I'm not sure I've ever played UT online.
For me, it was the single-player that mattered - ironic, given the intense multiplayer focus of the game's design. As with Quake III, the solo portion of UT is not prioritised. A thin plot is used to link together a series of arena battles against AI bots, as one bout of grisly bloodsport follows another.
Suprisingly, the worldbuilding and background detail in UT, a game essentially without a story, is for me one of its best and most fascinating aspects. With only Unreal to build upon, the game summons up an engaging, half-glimpsed world using only one cutscene, flavour text, and the design of its maps. That this world is never explored properly only serves to make it more tantalising. How can this work?
Beginning in earnest in the 1960s, a British colony with a land area of less than 450 square miles spawned a commercial film industry of stunning vitality. At its peak, Hong Kong was the world's third biggest film producer, exceeded only by the United States and India. Its well-developed galaxy of movie stars made films of every genre which commanded huge audiences at home, across East Asia, and eventually the West. While film production has slowed dramatically since the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong cinema is still an international cult phenomenon, its influence felt all over the world. This legacy rests on one thing above all - action movies.
Despite the transformation of stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh into household names, and the contributions of directors like John Woo to American film, relatively few people in the West are watching Hong Kong action movies today. This is due in part to their fairly poor availability on home video and streaming services, a situation which is only slowly changing for the better. Quite often, seeing even the most iconic films is a matter of sourcing out-of-print DVDs, or even importing region-free discs directly from Hong Kong.
What follows is my brief, personal introduction to the remarkable world of Hong Kong action cinema. With many hundreds of films made in the genre across the decades, a comprehensive guide is all but impossible - but the key films and further readings listed here should provide a point of entry into the most unique and thrilling action movies there are. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.
Following on from my run through the first season, it's time to continue with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Season 2 was broadcast in 1988 and 1989, with the episodes being set in 2365 during the second year of the USS Enterprise-D's mission.
While season 3 is generally thought of as the point at which TNG really came together as a series, season 2 shows some definite - if extremely patchy - signs of improvement over the first set of episodes. The two most impressive episodes are "The Measure of a Man" and "Q Who", which are often seen as some of the very best from TNG's early years. Notably, the latter introduces the Borg for the very first time - the implacable beings set up as a formidable threat both within TNG and even moreso, in Voyager.
Some significant changes this season include the introduction of Guinan (played wonderfully by Whoopi Goldberg), the promotion of Worf and LaForge to security chief and chief engineer respectively, and the temporary replacement of Beverly Crusher as chief medical officer. Dr Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur, isn't often popular with fans not least due to her (initial) antipathy towards Data. Plus, who can forget the introduction of Riker's beard? Engage!
As you might have gathered from my list of top 10 Original Series episodes, I've begun watching the Star Trek TV series in earnest. While I took the coward's way out with TOS and watched only around 30 episodes total, with the remaining series I'll be in for the long haul. Fortunately, that's barely more than 600 episodes!
Next up, of course, is Star Trek: The Next Generation which premiered in 1987 with a first season of 26 episodes. These stories focus on the travels of the USS Enterprise-D in 2364, nearly 100 years after the original voyages of Kirk's Enterprise.
The production and reception of this first season has been well-documented elsewhere, but it's worth reiterating that The Next Generation had a troubled beginning. The 1988 writer's strike caused problems towards its end, but the first half of the series is also plagued by sub-standard episodes. The cast had yet to figure out their characters, acting could be dubious, and Gene Roddenberry's demands were restrictive.
With that being said, I was surprised at the high quality of a handful of episodes in the season's second half. Patrick Stewart is also reliably excellent in his iconic role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard - he anchors the series even when other characters aren't yet up to scratch. Without further ado - engage!
I can't help thinking that if I was Gareth Evans, I'd be a little upset with Netflix. Just one week after the streaming giant released Evans' cult-themed horror Apostle, they have put out a movie transparently based on his own Raid series. It's hard not to suspect that the timing of The Night Comes For Us is designed at least partly to capitalise on the segment of Evans' fanbase who are disappointed that he chose not to make The Raid 3 (myself included).
While Timo Tjahjanto is a capable director in his own right, with his own ideas, the similarity of The Night Comes For Us to Evans' own movies is very striking. It's not just the presence of series acting veterans Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle and Zack Lee - much of the visual style, plotting, and (limited) characterisation is very much in the same vein. While Joe Taslim is our antihero here, and Iko Uwais an antagonist with limited screen time, this is to all intents and purposes an unofficial The Raid 3.
There's a lot of Star Trek. As of the end of the first season of the latest show Discovery, there are over 740 episodes in total - and then the films on top of that. With this in mind, it can be worth doing what the crew of the USS Voyager did on their way home, and take a few shortcuts.
The original 1960s series is where the Star Trek phenomenon began, but it's also understandably dated and often radically different to what today's TV audiences expect. I recently decided to get an introduction to The Original Series, and watched around 30 of the 79 episodes aired between 1966 and 1969 - using as my guide a number of "best of" lists.
If you've less time than I had, or are eager to move on to The Next Generation, what follows is my list best-of-the-best - my ten personal favourites episodes of the first iteration of Star Trek.
First identified in New York in 1972, it's a stubborn condition and new cases emerge every year. Most often, it's hereditary - passed from father to son. There is no known cure, and few victims ever recover. The nature of this disease? Liking Steely Dan.
Formed by Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker, Steely Dan were at their height in the '70s. Their music is complex, steeped in jazz, and made by a revolving cast of session players. The band took its name from a line of motorised dildos in William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. The only thing less likely than their original breakthrough is their continuing appeal. This is especially true because they released only two LPs after 1980.
"God bless you KKnD: you may have been a shit game, but without you, we may well still be stuck in isometric RTS hell to this very day."
Real-time strategy games are all but dead. New releases are few and far between these days, and most of the developers who once focused on them have moved on to other projects. StarCraft II is the last vestige of the traditional RTS, kept alive primarily as an e-sport by genre pioneers Blizzard for the better part of a decade.
Of course, it wasn't always so. Once the foundations of the RTS had been solidified by games like Dune II (1992), WarCraft (1994) and Command & Conquer (1995), a major boom dominated the latter half of the 1990s. New games from the experienced studios routinely sold in the millions, and smaller developers found success with derivatives of their own.
Speaking to PC Zone in 2004, Tim Ansell of The Creative Assembly recalled being stunned by the success of these "clones". He singled out a Krush, Kill 'n' Destroy (or KKnD), "an absolute pile of crap" and bemoaned its impressive sales of 600,000 copies. This realisation of how much money could be made inspired the development of what would become Shogun: Total War (2000).
The short-lived Mucky Foot Productions was founded in 1997 by former employees of Bullfrog and based in the Surrey town of Guildford, then as now the spiritual home of the British games industry. The founders' background was in management, strategy and "god games" - but for their first project as an independent developer they chose something much more dynamic and ambitious.
Initially known as "Dark City", the game was to feature open urban locations, driveable vehicles, and a sophisticated combat system. Published by Eidos, it was eventually shipped in November 1999 under the title Urban Chaos and retained much of its original design brief. In fact, in its novel and smooth combination of features, Urban Chaos was tremendously ahead of its time. Sadly, it was not widely played on release and faded into relative obscurity. Following a digital release via GOG, the game can be reappraised - albeit with some technical issues.