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Damien McFerran

Contributor

Retro fanatic and tech bore Damien has been writing words for professional publication since 2006, but has yet to fulfill his lifelong ambition of being commissioned by Your Kitten Magazine.

Featured articles

FeatureThe death of an indie store

After 25 years in business, Rare's local game store is closing its doors.

Samsung Galaxy S9 review

Is Android's new flagship the best smartphone money can buy?

FeatureThe retro gaming industry could be killing video game preservation

"These companies are taking advantage without giving back."

Samsung Galaxy S8 review

To Infinity and beyond.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

Hitting the right note?

Apple iPhone X review

A brilliant product, but do we really need Face ID?

Say what you will about Apple's overly expensive products, locked-down ecosystem and its habit of playing catch-up with key technological features, but the original iPhone was undeniably groundbreaking. Released a decade ago this year, it established a new paradigm for the mobile telephone, stripping away the then commonplace numerical pad in a move that was, at the time, seen as brave and perhaps even a little impetuous. History has judged that Apple's bold move was the right one, and now almost every smartphone sold today adheres to the same basic design. For the tenth anniversary of what has become one of the company's most iconic products, Apple's designers clearly wanted to make a splash - and the iPhone X (that's ten and not "X", by the way) does just that.

FeatureThe story of Mean Machines magazine

"You have to believe that it was a special place and time".

The video game landscape in the UK at the turn of the 90s was perhaps more confused and fractured than your fading memory can recall, assuming you're old enough to have lived through it. Home computers like the ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga and Atari ST were still the main conduits of interactive entertainment in the majority of homes up and down the country (despite the fact they were often purchased by naive parents with the intention of helping their children with their homework), and the invasion of Japanese consoles from the likes of Nintendo, Sega, NEC and SNK was yet to begun in earnest.

When Google announced the Nexus One back in 2010 it marked an important turning point for the company's Android mobile operating system. While Google's vision had always been different to Apple's - the aim being to create an OS standard that other hardware manufacturers could support, like Microsoft's Windows platform on computers - what was badly needed was a standard-bearer; a handset that would get a "pure" version of the OS and serve as a benchmark for others to imitate. The Nexus program was exactly that; Google worked with hardware partners like HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola and Huawei to create a new Nexus device every 12 months, each of which would get Android updates before any other phone. Unsurprisingly, the Nexus line quickly became very popular with dedicated Android users tired of the awkward custom UI skins and annoying bloatware so common on the majority of handsets.

It apparently took "courage" to remove the 3.5mm audio jack from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, according to Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller. The company's less kind critics have voiced the opinion that it has more to do with bolstering sales of the new 160 AirPods and the wireless headphones produced by Apple subsidiary Beats Electronics, but whatever side of the fence you happen to sit on, this is a decision that has dominated the headlines and has been in very real danger of completely overshadowing this year's iPhone refresh. Apple's reasoning for ditching a socket which has been commonplace on practically every smartphone for the past decade may be flimsy at best, but where the Cupertino company leads, rivals invariably follow and we could well see an industry-wide shift towards wireless audio in the next year or so.

FeaturePirates of the airwaves: How Sega won the hearts and minds of a generation

"Does it look like we're trying to be a disco vicar?"

The year is 1992. In a typical British household a typical British family is huddled around the television, still unsure about what has just transpired during the ad break of their typical British soap opera. Nestled among the traditional commercials for washing powder and breakfast cereal is a blistering whirlwind of fast editing and bizarre imagery; a smoke-filled barber's shop, a handsome hero with bionic implants and a generous helping of slickly-edited footage from a series of video games, punctuated by an infectiously catchy slogan: To be this good takes Sega. The effect is mesmerising. This is the family's first taste of an advertising campaign that will change the way video games are promoted in the UK forever. This is the birth of 'Pirate' TV.

Digital FoundryXiaomi Mi5 review

Flagship smartphone specs at half the price - so what's the catch?

The ongoing narrative regarding Chinese mobile giant Xiaomi is that while it makes amazing phones, it's never going to expand into the West due to fear of costly litigation with Apple, the company it strives so hard to emulate. While that rather lazy assessment might have held water a year or so ago, things have changed in recent months. Xiaomi picked the Spain-based Mobile World Congress to announce its latest flagship - the Mi5 - and has recently purchased 1,500 patents from Microsoft. While Xiaomi's International Vice President (and former Android spokesperson) Hugo Barra still insists that the company is resolutely focused on its core markets in the East, the wheels are in motion for global expansion - and with the flagship Mi5, Xiaomi has a smartphone that is more than equal to the task of taking on established rivals in America and Europe.

Digital FoundryLG G5 review

Has genuine hardware innovation returned to the smartphone market?

Browsing your local mobile phone emporium, it's hard not to feel a slight twinge of regret that we're no longer blessed with the kind of variety that typified the "feature" phone era; that wild and often unpredictable age before Apple and Google dominated the landscape and big-screen mobiles were the norm. Firms like Nokia, Samsung, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and Sagem weren't afraid to experiment with their handsets, creating products which desperately tried to differentiate themselves from their rivals in weird and wonderful ways. There was a joyful creativity at work, sadly absent from the modern smartphone sector. Today's handsets tend to follow a rigid template and any new idea that comes to market is quickly adopted by practically every manufacturer out of fear of being left behind. However, it would seem that LG - tired of sitting in the shadow of its competitors - has finally woken up to the value of offering something drastically different; the result is the G5, without a shadow of a doubt one of the most interesting phones we've seen in years.

Last year, we applauded Samsung's apparent willingness to listen to its critics and change the way it makes smartphones. The result was the wonderful Galaxy S6, a premium metal-and-glass handset more than capable of going toe-to-toe with Apple in the desirability stakes - and one of the most powerful phones of 2015. The positive reception afforded to its appearance makes it easy to understand why Samsung - still clearly keen to take on feedback, despite its status as the world's biggest manufacturer of smartphones - has decided to borrow a page out of Apple and HTC's book by retaining the same design language for a second year, albeit with some minor modifications. Oh, and those elements Samsung cruelly removed from the S6 - such as expandable storage and a waterproof casing - are back too. This feels more like an "S6S" then, but Apple's strategy appears to have worked well enough over the years, so one can hardly blame Samsung for aping the approach.

Digital FoundryCyber Gadget Retro Freak review

Seven retro consoles in one box - but is it better than the Retron 5?

After a legion of retro clones offering inconsistent performance on a tight budget, 2014's Retron 5 was a breath of fresh air. Positioned as an all-in-one solution for your vintage gaming needs, Hyperkin's Android-powered console covered a wide range of formats - including SNES, Mega Drive and Game Boy Advance - and came with a raft of emulator-specific features, such as save states and screen filters. It was almost inevitable that rivals would appear following the same approach, and the first out of the gate is the Japan-made Retro Freak, courtesy of a tiny company called Cyber Gadget. A cursory glance at the spec sheet reveals a close match for the Retron 5, but there are some key differences - some very positive, others less so.

Digital FoundryApple iPhone 6S review

You've got the 3D touch.

Apple followers have had over 12 months to become accustomed to the larger 4.7-inch screen of the iPhone 6, but there are still some who have fought the desire to upgrade because they genuinely prefer the smaller 4-inch screen of the 5S. Those same people will no doubt be anxiously gazing at the freshly-released 6S and feeling their resolve slowly weakening - and with good reason. Apple's latest handset might be larger than some long-time customers are used to (best not to mention the iPhone 6S Plus), but - as Android followers have known for quite some time - it proves that bigger is indeed better. Not only that, but the traditional bi-yearly 'S' enhancement supplies some notable improvements over 2014's iPhone 6, making the upgrade process even easier to stomach.

Taito's seminal Darius series - like its arcade competitors R-Type and Gradius - is one of the franchises which helped shape and define the 2D horizontal shooter genre during the coin-op dreamland that was the mid-to-late '80s. However, unlike its aforementioned contemporaries - which have sadly fallen dormant due to developer collapse and publisher apathy respectively - Darius has more or less managed to remain in active duty since those glory days.

Software sells hardware. It might seem odd to begin a review of a smartphone with a saying popularised by Nintendo, but - present company taken into account - we're sure you won't mind. In Nintendo's case, the mantra is based around the unshakable belief that high-quality games will encourage people to rush out to stores and purchase consoles, while with Google's Nexus line of smart devices, it's the software that ships with the handset that proves so appealing, and is surely the main reason why Android purists continue to flock to the brand - despite the fact that it usually lags behind the best phones when it comes to pure specs.

Samsung Galaxy S6 review

A galaxy of difference.

Once the undisputed king of the Android smartphone market, Korean firm Samsung has had a bit of a wobble over the past few years. Its yearly Galaxy S updates have always supplied processing power in abundance, but Samsung's overzealous use of plastic and seeming inability to evolve its basic design language gained the firm some fierce critics. Of course, when sales are brisk it's relatively easy to ignore such negative feedback, but last year was something of a turning point for Samsung. The Galaxy S5 sold worse than expected and overall profits dropped as a result - unsurprisingly, the Korean giant has been spurred into action and this year's flagship offering couldn't be more different - in physical terms, at least.

Digital FoundryHTC One M9 review

Third time's a charm?

HTC's last two flagship Android handsets have done much to make up the ground lost to Samsung's trailblazing Galaxy S range. However, last year's HTC One M8, impressive as it was, felt like only a minor jump over what preceded it. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it took a leaf out of Apple's book by subtly enhancing the M7's design, mimicking the two-year design cycle popularised by the Cupertino company. This year's model arguably takes even more modest steps forward, offering a device that, to the layperson, is mostly identical to its predecessor in its aesthetic. There are improvements under the bonnet and this is without a doubt one of the best-made and most luxurious Android handsets on the market - but it's hard to shake the impression that HTC is stumbling back into the rut it tried so valiantly to escape in 2013.

Remember when mobile phones were monstrously-proportioned beasts that would bloat your trouser pocket in the most unsightly fashion? If so, the chances are you also experienced the subtle transition from gigantic talk-tech to truly pocket-sized alternatives - but the race to miniaturise mobile telecommunications was somewhat short-lived. The arrival of touchscreen smartphones has seen the pendulum swing violently back in the opposite direction; the iPhone kicked things off with a 3.5-inch display in 2007, but since then its Android and Windows Phone-based rivals have pushed the envelope dramatically, leading to the rise of the somewhat irksome portmanteau "Phablet".

Capcom may be famous these days for its gargantuan Resident Evil and Monster Hunter franchises, but it has been one of the industry's key players since the glory days of the 80s, tirelessly pumping out solid-gold classics like Bionic Commando, Mega Man, Black Tiger, 1942, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Final Fight and Strider years before Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine had their first unfortunate encounter with a slavering zombie in Spencer Mansion.

Digital FoundryNew Nintendo 3DS review

New and improved - and now available in the UK.

Nintendo's New 3DS handheld is out in the UK today. Digital Foundry originally reviewed the hardware back in October 2014, but the comments and criticisms remain equally as valid today, so we're republishing the article for those considering an investment in the revised hardware.

FeatureYasuhisa Kawamura and the Resident Evil that never was

Meet the man who tried to make Capcom's survival horror even scarier, and failed.

Very much like the shambling, slack-jawed corpses that stalk its instalments, Capcom's Resident Evil series is a curiously aimless beast at present. 2012's Resident Evil 6 deviated too far from the core values of the franchise by trying to appeal to horror and action fans alike, and Capcom has since fallen back on former glories by remastering the GameCube remake of the 1996 debut title for modern consoles. Meanwhile, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 skulks almost apologetically in the shadows, hoping to offer a spin-off romp which will maintain the interest of an increasingly restless fan base until the next numbered entry in the lineage hoves into view.

FeatureThe making of RoboCod

A fish out of water.

Derbyshire lad Chris Sorrell has come a long way since pounding the streets of Matlock in the 80s. He's worked with the likes of Millennium Interactive, SCE Cambridge and Radical Entertainment, and has had a hand in creating world-famous video game franchises such as MediEvil and James Pond.

When you stop and think about it, it's perhaps a little unusual that Konami's Castlevania - a series primarily concerned with bloodsucking vampires, crumbling gothic fortresses and ghoulish things that go bump in the night - isn't actually that scary at all. There's nothing to compare to the likes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Dead Space, no moments where you jump out of your skin or your find yourself fearful of what lies around the next corner. What Castlevania does have in spades is atmosphere; its finest instalments are fondly recalled because in each one the experience as a whole seems to pull together to create a striking impact on the player. There's no finer example of this quality than Super Castlevania 4.

FeatureStreets of Rage was much more than a Final Fight clone

Bare Knuckle sandwich - a look back at Sega's 16-bit series.

Back in the days when arcade conversions were often enough to make or break a home console, the earth-shattering news that Nintendo had secured a port of Capcom's Final Fight for its soon-to-be-released Super Famicom sent shockwaves through playgrounds all over the globe. In this pre-Street Fighter 2 world, Final Fight was the biggest ticket in town; a side-scrolling brawler in the tradition of Renegade and Double Dragon, it boasted massive character sprites, a wide repertoire of attack moves and instantly accessible gameplay. Nestled neatly within Nintendo's 16-bit launch line-up, it was a definite system seller - despite the fact that cartridge memory constraints meant the two-player mode, third character Guy and an entire level were left on the cutting room floor.

FeatureBorn slippy: the making of Star Fox

From the archive: ex-Argonaut staff reveal the story behind the revolutionary SNES hit.

Every Sunday we take a stroll through our archives in order to reintroduce to a piece from our past. Today, in the wake of Nintendo's mini-revival of Starfox with Shigeru Miyamoto's Wii U experiment, we bring you Damien McFerran's making of the SNES original. The article was originally published in June last year.

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