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10 Years on YouTube

N.B. The following was a comment I posted on my 10 year anniversary video, uploaded on January 10th 2021 – I thought it best to make a blog post too!

Ten years condensed into five minutes. I uploaded the first video to my YouTube channel back on 10th January 2011 which means it’s been a whopping decade of Let’s Plays, livestreams, collaborations and more. Whilst you might expect a big, blowout anniversary special for reaching the big 1-0, I figured a simple montage would keep it short and sweet. And that also means no incessant rambling from yours truly! I figured I’d be best off writing something down instead of babbling and losing my train of thought narrating. Let’s go!

I honestly can’t believe it’s been ten years. I vividly remember sitting on my bedroom floor with my Dazzle capture card nested amongst a mess of cables, wearing my crappy Microsoft microphone headset and mumbling my way through a playthrough of The Simpsons Game on the Playstation 2. In the blink of an eye it’s now 2021 and though a lot has changed in my life, mumbling my way through video games and uploading it to the internet has miraculously continued.

My original goal was to create content because it seemed fun and I was confident I could give it a go. In the process, maybe I’d get a bit better at designing, editing and post-production. But if anyone actually wanted to watch my videos? Well that was the icing on the cake! I think it’s that aspect which has led to me doing this for so long – I never had that dream of becoming ‘big’ and the inevitable disappointment when things don’t work out. Has that perspective hindered my channel growth? Absolutely. Has that perspective also been beneficial to my own health and wellbeing? Absolutely! 17,000 subscribers is nothing to be sniffed at but in the humongous pond that is YouTube, I am but a tadpole and by anyone else’s standards I think my channel would be deemed a failure after ten years of content creation. But for me there was no success threshold and no way to fail. I just did it because I enjoyed it. I could be sitting at 100k+ subscribers and having YouTube as my main source of income if I’d done things different but who’s to say if I’d be any happier?

All of that is to say that whilst my channel is still very small I don’t regret anything I’ve done, or not done, over the past decade. I’ve made exactly what I wanted to make and have never been coerced into doing something for the sake of the YouTube algorithm. Suck it, machine learning!

However that’s not to say things are going to stay exactly the same. I’ve hinted on a couple of livestreams that I have plans to change the sort of content I make because hey, after ten years, wouldn’t you start to get a little bored? It’ll remain gaming related though so don’t expect a drastic shift towards ASMR or makeup tutorials unfortunately. I’ll explain more in a future channel update video, so stay tuned!

One thing that boggles my mind to this day is when I receive comments from someone who has just binge-watched an entire series of mine and come to say thanks. Let’s face it, not all of my 1000+ videos have been top quality – far from it – but to know that on some occasions, I’ve created something that someone really enjoys is truly satisfying. The nature of Let’s Playing is a fickle business where an audience either watches content because of the game being played, or because of the person playing it. I’ve always accepted the fact that my subscriber number isn’t at all reflective of who watches my content. Some people watch one series and move on, others stick around for a bit longer. But at least I can look at it and say that almost 18,000 people have at one point thought my content was good enough to subscribe and hey, that’s pretty neat. Moreover, I’m hugely proud of the subscribers who stuck around and became part of our little community. Your comments and words of encouragement mean the world to me and I think together we’ve created such a positive and supportive corner of the internet. I look at other groups or communities and boy does it make me grateful for what I have thanks to you.

It would be amiss to write all this without mentioning the collaborative element of my YouTube history. In all honesty I had no intention of collaboration when I first started but I look back now and realise how much it means to me to have done so. I’ve made content with some brilliant, hilarious people like Honestom23 and his podcast as well as the many, many members of the JFS community. And what surprises me most is that often these digital friendships have transcended the internet and led to actual meetups and holidays together. If you’d have told me back on January 10th 2011 that eventually I would be in the middle of Brussels, unimpressed at the sight of the Manneken Pis with four other people I’d met through Minecraft, I’d have thought you were nuts!

World events aside, 2020 was a great year for my channel both in terms of growth and my own personal goals for it. New series like The Simpsons: Hit & Run + MOD have been really well received and I love any excuse to return to that game. Similarly, my video designing a sequel to it was a labour of love and something I’m really proud of. Towards the end of last year I returned to livestreaming on Twitch, which was something I had neglected for quite some time despite the fact I used to massively enjoy doing it years back. During my break there’s been such an improvement on the tools used to stream and the fun things possible that going back to it has been an absolute blast. From Pam emotes to Ned Flanders mowing across the screen, I can only begin to imagine what weird stuff we’ll make this year.

Last year I also took my first foray into accepting donations or monetary support from my audience by joining Patreon. I’d received many comments about doing so in the past and thought it was about time to give it a shot. It was a truly humbling experience to actually get a few patrons who thought my content was worthy of a donation. Unfortunately I soon realised Patreon was not the right platform for me – it’s functionality didn’t really suit my content and the finances involved were an absolute headache. I switched to a similar platform called Ko-fi (https://ko-fi.com/muckluck) which has been great and also let me sell my own merch. Wait…merch!?

Indeed, this was the year I finally made my own merch. Not some crappy t-shirt or mug, no no no – my very own enamel pin which, if you’re in the UK, you can buy here – https://ko-fi.com/s/720a34d810. I’ve already written a massive blog post all about the process of creating it but I think doing so has been one of my favourite things to come out of the mess that was 2020. Sorry to tease all those outside of the UK – once Royal Mail get their act together and become a bit more reliable I will allow for international shipping!

I’m going to stop rambling now, I think that’s pretty much everything I wanted to address. Thank you to each and every person who has subscribed, liked, commented, donated, chatted in a stream, shared, read my blog, tweeted, bought a pin and everything in between. Making videos on YouTube has been a part of my life for ten years now and it’s only continued for so long because of you. Here’s to many more years to come!

@@@8u)

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How I made my first ever merch

I did it. I finally made some merch. It seems like an obligatory stage in a YouTuber’s journey – heading to spreadshirt.com, sticking your logo on a t-shirt and Bob’s your uncle, sorted.

Except for me that wasn’t the case.

I always thought simply sticking your name or logo on a cheap t-shirt was a bit naff. Combined with the fact that personally I dislike t-shirts with big, gaudy graphics plastered over them, it didn’t seem like a very enticing prospect. So for the time being, I’ve ignored any idea of making merchandise – and since my channel isn’t humongous anyway, it’s never been a big deal.

Until now! Well, my channel still isn’t humongous but I guess being stuck indoors for the most part these past eight months gave me time to ponder and plan. The idea to make an enamel pin was actually planted in my mind way back in August 2019 (2019 feeling like a lifetime ago by this point). Thanks to some accurately targeted online adverts, I’d recently learned about a website called Wish.com where you could order all sorts of tat directly from China for pittance. Sure it’d take six weeks to arrive but the stuff only cost £1, including some funky looking Simpsons pins! I bought a few, curious to see what the quality was like.

Fast forward six weeks and I did my first ever unboxing…unpacking? Whatever it was, I was impressed with the pins. There’s something very satisfying about an enamel pin, I’m not sure how to describe it. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people with pins plastered all over their denim jacket or rucksack – in the words of Marge Simpson:

And that got me thinking – wouldn’t it be cool to have my own enamel pins? I work alongside some graphic designers and I’m always jealous when they get to see their own designs in physical form, be it a leaflet or a banner. My semi-recent rebrand was ripe to use, especially since my banana logo was a nice, simple design and the perfect fit for a pin.

Made in China

Time to research how on earth I was going to create some enamel pins without spending a fortune. In my head it was an industry where you’d have to order thousands at a time in big bulk orders by huge companies. Turns out there’s a thriving market for indie pin makers who are creating smaller batches to sell on their online shops – just take a look at the vast array of edgy, inspirational or just plain weird offerings on the #enamelpin Instagram feed.

Now knowing it was in fact a feasible idea, I did what any other person would do and just googled it. “Custom enamel pins” brought up a ton of companies offering just what I needed…custom enamel pins, duh. With quantities as small as fifty, websites like The Enamel Pin Factory and Made By Cooper also featured easy-to-use ‘builder’ pages where I could get instant quotes.

That was the good news, the bad news was the price – it wasn’t cheap. I soon discovered there wasn’t much difference in price between making 50 and making, say, 200. That’s because a large chunk of the costs involved is creating the mould, and that needs to happen regardless of how many you end up making.

I’m sure you’re all aware of this anyway but I should stress that I didn’t create these pins to make a profit. I ended up ordering 100 but there’s no chance I’ll sell all of those, most of them will end up sitting in my cupboard collecting dust no doubt. Does that bother me? Not at all! I did this as a fun little project to pass the time during imposed lockdowns. If anyone just so happens to actually want one of these and buys one – that’s icing on the cake. And besides, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a fair few Adsense payments over the years from adverts on my YouTube channel, certainly enough to cover doing this.

Anyway, back to the research. Those previously mentioned websites were quoting around £200 for 50-100 pins and that was just a tad too much for me to commit to. I didn’t really know how much to expect but since I was doing this for a bit of fun, I had to find a cheaper alternative.

More googling later and I came across some guides from pin sellers on how they go about the manufacturing of their designs. Pages like this from Pin Lord or this from Luna Chai were incredibly insightful and ended up pointing me in the right direction for cheaper pins – China! I’m sure those previously mentioned websites are perfectly fine but when it comes down to it, they’re pretty much just a middleman to the real pin manufacturers in China. They take your ideas and designs, give a little advice here or there, tweak it a bit or two and then hand it over to a well established factory overseas. They simplify the whole process for the customer and in return, they can charge a bit more to take a cut.

What I learned is that if you don’t mind doing a bit more work, cutting out the middleman and talking directly to the manufacturers can save you a fair amount. And the best way to do that? With a little website known as Alibaba.com…

Alibaba and the Forty Different Options to Choose From

Ok I lied, Alibaba isn’t a little website – it’s a monstrous, complex, overwhelming world of numbers, figures, taxes, business slang and abbreviations. OEM. MOQ. RFQ. What was I getting myself into? I’m no businessman, I hated studying maths and unfortunately I can’t speak Chinese. Alibaba is an online marketplace allowing consumers to order directly from literally thousands of suppliers. It’s a bit like eBay or Amazon, just a whole lot more complex. I mean, c’mon, just take a look at their UI…

I trepidatiously clicked my way around the website, signing up and creating a ‘business’ to order with. Searching for enamel pins brought up a slew of results, list after list of suppliers with profile pages covered in buzzwords. Eventually I started to understand some of the lingo and found manufacturers with a minimum order quantity (MOQ, aha!) of 50-100. Thanks to a template from the Pin Lord guide, I was able to copy and paste a message to around ten or so to see which offered the cheapest quote.

In it I asked for a quote based on how much 50/100 hard enamel pins* 30mm big with three colours would cost, including shipping to merry ol’ England. Little did I know that was to open the flood gates with a torrent of messages and sales pitches from these businesses. Y’see Alibaba has an inbuilt chat system, pretty much akin to Facebook messenger where you’re able to converse with the employees. And just like any good sales pitch, if I didn’t respond in a timely manner, they were quick to press me on whether I wanted to continue or not.

* There are two types of pins, hard enamel vs. soft enamel. Simply put, hard enamel costs more but is higher quality and more durable. It’s flat compared to soft enamel where the enamel ‘sits’ in the mould more rather than being flush with it. There’s also specific colour codes to consider and pin placement etc. This is what I ended up with when it came to the pin blueprint:

My phone soon filled up with notifications from the Alibaba app – messages from someone called Crystal, another from Wendy or Eva or Jayce. Throughout the night they’d check in with me to see if they could progress with the order. Other times the messages had nothing to do with enamel pins and instead asked for my opinion on Boris Johnson or Covid-19 which was…odd to say the least. What I will say is that, whilst not perfect, the majority of suppliers I spoke to communicated in perfectly legible English so don’t let that aspect put you off using Alibaba. It’s terrifying in many other ways, but chatting to the manufacturers was actually quite nice.

I was receiving quotes of various amounts from Alibaba, some low but some actually higher than using the middleman websites. Of the ones that were low, some were just…too low. You know that saying? “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Well, one supplier in particular was quoting a meagre £65 in total. If it’s that cheap, surely the quality can’t be any good? Their photos look nice but who knows how mine would actually turn out. Moreover, their contact Wendy was spamming me with messages, eager to seal the deal and get on with the order.

Alarm bells rang in my head.

Alibaba lets you check the transaction history of suppliers and theirs…wasn’t great. Either they were relatively new or people simply didn’t use them. Sorry Wendy, but things aren’t working out.

Looking back at Luna Chai’s guide, they’d mention some ‘notable Alibaba producers’ which I really should’ve paid attention to initially. I tried contacting one of them called Kunshan Krell Cultural Developments Co. and ended up speaking to Vicky. Vicky was different. Vicky didn’t mess around. No pleasantries, no small talk – straight to the point with quick, blunt answers to my naive questions. She didn’t hound me or pester me, instead offering 100 pins for around £90. Deal! I’ll admit, sending across that much money on a site I’d never used before to a company on the other side of the planet was a bit nerve-racking but thankfully Alibaba does include some sort of buyer protection/trade assurance type stuff so I wasn’t too worried. Any fears soon dissolved when I received a DHL tracking code not long afterwards, with the package delivered three weeks later all the way from Jiangsu, China. My banana logo had travelled the world!

I’d read about how to expect not all the pins to come out perfectly. For professional pin sellers, these slightly imperfect pins become b-stock to sell at a cheaper rate. Thankfully I’d say pretty much all of mine look great – perhaps due to the quality of the manufacturer or more likely because the design is so simple there’s less to go wrong. Opening the (unfortunately bomb-like) package and seeing my own design as a tangible, physical item was brilliant. The process was worth it for that feeling alone.

“Look at that subtle colouring. The tasteful thickness.”

I had my pins but that was all. In all the pretty Instagram photos, pins were on a backing card that complimented the design and rounded off the whole thing. Backing cards were an option with the manufacturers on Alibaba but I decided early on that I’d make the backing cards separately. How, you may ask? Business cards!

There are tons of business card printing services online, offering all sorts of finishes, thicknesses and embellishments. They’d serve as the perfect size for a backing card and generally they’re pretty cheap to order. I opted for a site called Vistaprint which offered rounded corners to match my video thumbnail design. Better yet, since there was a 30% discount going at the time, I decided to add a bit of flare with a spot uv finish on my logo. The only thing I had to be careful with was converting rgb colours to a cmyk equivalent as best I could, but overall they came out looking great.

After purchasing a bit of packaging from Amazon, they’re ready to go! Oh right, I should probably link to where you can buy them…

https://ko-fi.com/s/720a34d810

They’re listed on my newly created Ko-fi shop page. If you weren’t aware, I previously had a Patreon page set up but never really used it as intended. To cut a long story short, I decided to close that and simplify things with a Ko-fi page instead. Instead of a month-to-month donation, Ko-fi let’s you give one-off donations if you ever fancied supporting me and paying for, well, a coffee.

Despite the fact that my largest audience is US-based, I’m starting off with UK shipments only. There’s no big business behind all this automatically packing it, buying the postage and sending it off – it’s literally just me doing this after I’ve finished my regular job. Not to mention that international delivery comes with its own issues of customs and whatnot. Sorry to anyone overseas who wants one – I’ll look into it further down the line I promise!

Oh would you look at that, I rambled on for far too long again. At the very least I hope this has proved insightful, especially if you’re considering making your own enamel pins. I say go for it – it’s scary at first but boy, is it worth it in the end.

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Latte (f)art – My Journey into the World of Espresso

In a previous blog post that was all about Billie Eilish and her then recently released theme for the newest Bond film ‘No Time To Die’. I ended it noting:

“Not long to go now until the film itself – you could say there’s no time ‘til No Time to Die.”

Silly Muckluck

Well how was I supposed to know about a global pandemic that was about to hit and the use of the word ‘unprecedented’ was about to skyrocket? No Time To Die was delayed until November 2020 and I won’t be surprised if it’s delayed again.

Over the past few months I’ve been fighting my own personal battle of trying to move house, never mind worrying about a deadly virus doing the rounds. You’ll be pleased to hear that in April I finally did move and ever since, my partner and I have slowly been trying to furnish our house in the midst of shop closures and stock level problems. Sure that includes basic things like a sofa and a fridge but I perhaps recklessly decided to treat myself recently to a brand new coffee machine. And boy oh boy have my eyes been opened to the wonderful yet overwhelming world of home coffee making. I’m not talking about your bog standard instant coffee like Nescafé or Kenco, no no no. I’m talking proper espresso-based drinks like lattés, cappuccinos or flat whites. The good stuff! And since it was apparently International Coffee Day yesterday, I thought I’d write a lil’ blog post all about our beloved addictive beverage.

I should backtrack briefly and state that I already had a traditional pump espresso machine from a couple years back. It was a very entry-level one from De’Longhi called the Motivo. I bought it from Sainsburys for around £70 which in all honesty is just too cheap for an espresso machine. I’ve learned a lot about coffee recently and looking back, that thing was nasty. At the time I didn’t really know any better – “De’Longhi is a good brand, surely?” I thought to myself and on a bit of an impulse I began my long and expensive journey into the caffeinated cosmos.

Tiny review of the De’Longhi Motivo if you’re interested – it was a cheap and plastic-y machine that only offered pressurised baskets (more on this later), a water tank so small you had to refill it after every use and a steam wand that was such a pain to clean and even broke at one point. And yet, despite all of that, I thoroughly enjoyed some of the coffee I made with it. Like I said, I knew hardly anything about the complexities of brewing espresso and my phase of drinking oat milk probably masked a lot of the awful tasting shots but it was a necessary entry-level product to decide if I even liked making my own lattés. If you’re certain that you’re up for the challenge of grinding, dosing, tamping and steaming, give something like the Motivo a miss and save that money towards something higher quality. But if you’re bored of instant coffee or dislike the pod-based methods and are unsure if you want to take the leap towards home espresso brewing, then I think it’s a wise choice to buy a cheaper model, play around with it and see if you like what for me has effectively become an entire hobby in itself.

After about a year of use I decided it was time for an upgrade which just so happened to coincide with a friend also planning to purchase a coffee machine. After several conversations swapping research and special offers online, we both ended up purchasing a Sage Bambino Plus, a brand otherwise known as Breville elsewhere. It certainly wasn’t the most expensive option out there but nor was it the cheapest. Why did we both end up going with this particular model? Well aside from reading good reviews, one thing I appreciated was the bambino-ness of it – aka its small size. So many other espresso machines out there are big chunky beasts that would hog up a fair potion of our rather limited kitchen worktop. The Sage was thinner and sleeker with a lovely metal finish which matched our other appliances. All those years of playing The Sims have finally paid off in home décor practice! It also boasts some marketing spiel of a three second heat up time and automatic milk frothing which, don’t get me wrong, are nice features but I’m not going into every minutia of detail about this machine. There are plenty of reviews, both written and video to look at and gauge if you’re interested in buying it. I haven’t really had it long enough to decide (though I will say the milk frothing is pretty great). 

And to be honest, from this point on in the blog post I was planning on describing the process ofbrewing espressos, what I’ve learned and what I’m still learning. But as I started writing it I realised it was incredibly boring. Reading about coffee is no fun, watching about it is better (and believe me, I’ve been watching a lot of James Hoffmann’s YouTube channel) but actually making it is the most fun. I was going to ramble on about the fundamentals of espresso that’d I learned by watching tutorials and guides – how to extract properly, how to know if you’ve made a decent coffee so on and so forth. Then I realised that I am in no position to preach about all that stuff yet. Sure, I like making coffees at home and I’m definitely getting better at doing so but I am in no way a professional barista. Not even close. And to prove that, instead of coffee bean babbling I thought it might be more fun to show my pathetic attempts at latté art. Once in a blue moon I might get something resembling a heart, the rest of the time…not so much. I’ve taken the liberty of trying to interpret these literal hot messes but think of them like clouds or a Rorschach test and let me know what you see instead.

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Mid-roll Madness

Have you been injured at work and it wasn’t your fault?

Adverts. We all hate adverts, right? And yet the internet is filled with more adverts than ever, popping up before that video or enclosing a news article so much that you can barely read the actual text. I’ve never really been one for using an adblocker but that’s not to say I’m against them. That might be a bit of a strange opinion to have as a ‘content creator’ but if you’re sick of what surfing the web has turned into, more power to you!

And the reason I feel that way is because of the position I’ve maintained ever since uploading my first ever video – I’m not doing YouTube for the money. In my mind, becoming successful enough to make a full-blown living out of YouTube is far more dependent on luck than it is on hard work, and that just wasn’t something I was prepared to go for. Video creation has always been a hobby – a hobby I can’t imagine not doing, sure – but a hobby nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong, I may have tweaked a title or a thumbnail to be a tad more clickbait-y over the years but hey, at the end of the day I just like it when people watch my stuff, not that I’d get an extra .001 cent from them watching a pre-roll ad.

So for around six years, I left my YouTube channel unmonetized. I was eligible to turn adverts on, but I figured it wasn’t worth the faff in setting up, I’d get pittance of a pay check anyway and most worrying to me at the time was the threat of content strikes. I’d received content strikes before but the thought of them occurring on monetized videos didn’t seem like a very smart idea.

Money for nothin’ (and clicks for free)

Then around 2017 I changed my mind. Why? To be honest I can’t recall the exact reason why. It may have been that some videos of mine had done far better than I ever expected such as Destroy All Humans! or Futurama. Their views were climbing and that little voice in the back of my head whispered “you’re missing out on $$$”. In that six-year time period, perhaps it had become more normalised to add monetization to your channel, no matter how big you were? I’m really not sure. I was completely aware that I’d make very little, but I figured any small amount I do get could go back into the channel some way, be it through buying a game to Let’s Play or a piece of related hardware.

The decision was made – I signed up to Google Adsense and got some adverts running on my videos. But here’s where I made an important choice that has prompted this whole blog post…

I HATE mid-roll ads.

I hate them. I hate everything about them. Pre-roll ads? Sure, the content hasn’t started yet, I don’t mind waiting five seconds to skip. Post-roll ads? Yeah ok, I mean I’ll probably have clicked off the page anyway but go for it. Mid-roll ads that disrupt the flow of the video and take you out of it immediately? No thank you!

Mid-roll adverts remind me of standard television…y’know the thing that people are using less and less these days in favour of services like Netflix or Disney+ which feature NO adverts. I find them very archaic and I especially hate how haphazardly they’re usually placed in videos. Sure, I’ve seen a few channels put mid-roll ads at a suitable location in their content, usually where they’ve edited in an ad break to the video itself but that is definitely not the norm. So when it came to choosing what adverts to include in my videos, I always avoided mid-rolls and just stuck on a pre-roll and post-roll instead. It’s what I’ve always done and will continue to do. So why is it you may have noticed mid-roll adverts in my videos over the past few weeks?

The YouTube Ad-pocolypse

You may have heard about an ad-pocolypse affecting YouTube channels. You may have even noticed more adverts yourself whilst browsing YouTube. I know I have. And the reason for this? Well it all started with an email from YouTube on July 7th stating this, emphasis on the bold:

“Today, only videos longer than 10 minutes are eligible for mid-roll ads. Starting from late July, all videos longer than 8 minutes will be eligible for mid-roll ads. As part of this change, we will turn on mid-roll ads for all eligible videos. This means that videos where you may have opted out of mid-roll ads will now be opted in. Videos that already have mid-roll ads will not be impacted. Future uploads from monetising channels will also have mid-roll ads turned on by default.”

That’s right, all the videos I’d monetized over the years were going to have mid-roll adverts turned on automatically. Even worse, the email went on to say:

“We use machine learning to automatically find the most natural breaks in your videos, in order to increase monetisation potential while balancing user experience.”

Ahhhh! The adverts will be generated by some crazy AI that places far too many of them. I’ve seen lots of screenshots of adverts being places less than five minutes apart which is simply ridiculous. Just take a look at this for example:

Why are YouTube doing this? Well, I’ve read some theories that they’re trying to push users into purchasing an ad-free experience with YouTube Premium. £11.99 a month? Keep dreaming! That or they’re just looking to increase revenue from more adverts.*

(By the way, if you watched my stupid 17,000 subscriber celebration tweet and wondered if I have YouTube Premium myself, I don’t. I got that mug from work when YouTube visited the university campus. I pretended to sign up to a free trial of YouTube Premium to get it, especially since it came with churros in  – yum!)

Ok so I should probably mention that I’m not entirely free of blame for my channel being bombarded by intrusive mid-roll ads. The email ended with the following:

“If mid-roll ads are not a good fit for your videos, you can indicate this preference in YouTube Studio by 27 July 2020.”

…which I clearly didn’t read close enough since that date came and went with me doing diddly-squat. That being said, opting into something is usually always a better method rather than opting out of something and far less sneaky to boot.

What did all this result in? Every one of my monetised videos suddenly had mid-roll ads activated and I didn’t even realise. Thankfully it’s only been a couple months until I decided to look up one of my older video’s monetisation settings. Worse yet, some of my videos which had previously been monetised with a pre-roll and post-roll advert had been completely flipped and now only featured a mid-roll advert. Whatever the scary YouTube machine was trying to do didn’t work properly anyway.

It was time to develop some repetitive strain injury. I’ve now gone through every monetised video of mine and manually turned off mid-roll ads. That was a decent hour of my life I’ll never get back so thanks YouTube, I appreciate it! If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this it’s to not remain complacent, to regularly clean your email inbox and most importantly – pay attention to the small print.

Actually, if there truly is a lesson to be learned from all of this it’s that you should probably go ahead and install an adblocker. It’ll make your web browsing experience infinitely better. And for any content creators income that you’d be affecting, send them a little something on their Patreon, or Ko-fi or Paypal or whatever. Trust me, it’ll be a lot more than whatever they’d get from your clicks…

* Also mentioned in the email was this:

“Turning on auto mid-roll ads saves creators extra work while helping increase the monetisation potential for new and existing content.”

In the month I had mid-rolls activated without realising, I didn’t notice any significant increase in Adsense revenue. So if there’s any more money being generated with this change, I doubt content creators are seeing much of it.

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A Montage of Muckluck’s

A few months back when I started to create regular content once again, I initially uploaded a welcome back video with a slightly different intro. One of the things I most wanted to do with my recent ‘rebrand’ was customise it to suit the particular series or Let’s Play it was in. Yellow for The Simpsons, wooden planks for Monkey Island – you get the point…

For my return I decided to go all out and try morphing my logo into all sorts of different games. It was a nice way to pass the time while not being able to record and the challenge of recreating some of the styles was actually really fun. I spliced them all together into a fast montage and bish, bash, bosh – intro made!

Then it occurred to me I never actually posted them anywhere on their own so here they are. The choice of games is pretty random to be honest so don’t take them as clues as to what I’ll be playing in the future. I just thought they all had distinctive styles that would stand out. The question is – can you name all the games they’re based on? (Uh…just try not to look at the caption…)

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No Time to Eilish?

The 25th James Bond film is creeping ever closer and with each step towards its release on April 3rd comes more and more information. Sponsorship brands, 30-second Super Bowl spots and now the biggie – the theme song!

It was announced on January 14th that none other than teenage singer/songwriter sensation Billie Eilish would be performing the titular track and to be honest, that didn’t come as much of a surprise. There were rumours months ago she was in the running and her current status matches EON’s typical formula of picking what they hope to be a surefire number 1 (and whaddya know, it was). With that prior inkling, my reaction was a solid – ‘mmh’ – and that was about it. She’s hugely popular for a reason and with such massive success so young, she’s got to be doing something right. Sure, her music isn’t my exact cup of tea but I wanted to reserve judgement until the song was released.

Come midnight on February 13th and up it pops on her YouTube channel. Bleary eyed I plugged in my earphones and got listening. My immediate reaction was…well, it’s a tad disappointing but not awful – i.e. the same reaction I had listening to ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ for the first time. 

Initially I felt as though the song was just a bit too similar to Spectre’s theme. Slow piano introduction, haunting lyrics, orchestral swells and a final crescendo – Adele, Sam Smith and now Billie Eilish have together cemented Craig’s era of Bond themes as emotional ballads. Sure, Chris Cornell’s fantastic ‘You Know My Name’ kickstarted his tenure and Jack White and Alicia Keys’ not-so-fantastic ‘Another Way to Die’ followed suit, but since then it’s been a croon-fest.

In itself, the choice of a ballad isn’t a bad thing. After all, ‘Nobody Does it Better’ is a power ballad and that’s perhaps my favourite James Bond song of them all. The issue is it’s now been three in a row and maybe the formula is getting a little stale. Just like ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, at first I thought ‘No Time to Die’ lacked punch and needed a bit more pizazz. They picked an edgy artist who just wasn’t edgy enough in this case. Bit I’ve given it some time, I listened and relistened and I can safely say I’m warming to it.

Ok so it’s not my dream 007 theme. Not by a long shot. And let me just get a lil’ bit of moaning out of the way first. The song teases us with those iconic James Bond horns and guitar twangs. I’ve seen reaction videos of people fawning over those specific parts but to me it’s just a bit lazy.

“Hmm, how do we make sure people know it’s a Bond song?”

“Just shove a trumpet in and end on that guitar chord, I wanna go home.”

Perhaps it didn’t go quite like that but I’d love if the theme went a bit more retro, especially with the old-school title of ‘No Time to Die’. Give us the full-on, no holds barred Bond experience! That being said, I’ve given it a little thought and have come to my own conclusions as to why that wasn’t the case.

This is Daniel Craig’s final performance as 007. It’s going to be an emotional farewell to this era of Bond which has lasted a whopping 14 years. ‘No Time to Die’ reflects that pretty well I’d say. And maybe there’s no room in today’s music tastes for a belter like Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ but my guess is if they are to do one like that, they’re waiting until Bond 26. Why? Because it’ll be a brand new actor stepping into those big shoes, someone’s who got to please a very judgemental audience (remember all the backlash Craig received for being blonde?). What better way to cement this new actor’s debut to the franchise than put it alongside a theme that evokes classics of the past? Here’s hoping anyway…

But back to Billie Eilish and ‘No Time to Die’. I’m really starting to dig it. Fittingly it’s got a dark, moody tone that no doubt will match whatever nasty revelation Bond is going to discover in the film. In that respect Eilish was a brilliant choice and Hans Zimmer’s orchestral arrangement features all sorts of little ominous cues to parallel. It’s slow, it lingers and creeps along – I can’t wait to see what opening titles are put alongside it.

Prior to its release, I read a few comments worrying about Eilish’s vocal strength and whether ‘No Time to Die’ would just end up a whispery, mumbly, breathy mess. Eilish’s style is certainly divisive but my only knowledge of her music beforehand was ‘Bad Guy’ and that was mainly due to memes. Give the song a listen however and you’ll quickly discover she easily has the ability to carry a Bond song. If anything ‘No Time to Die’ has given Billie Eilish the chance to spread her wings vocally. Sure there’s a lot of gentle singing but that eventually makes way for a suitably intense finale. And most importantly, Eilish’s voice doesn’t have that same ear-grating whine to it that Sam Smith’s does.

I promise the purpose of this post wasn’t just to bash Sam Smith but when I think back to Spectre, I think of all the potential it had and the disappointment that followed. And unfortunately ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ is just lumped in with that sentiment. And let’s be honest, its lyrics were pants which came as no surprise when Sam almost boasted that they wrote the theme in 20 minutes. Most of it was pretty schlocky but at least with ‘No Time to Die’ there’s a couple nice lines, the standout being “That the blood you bleed is just the blood you owe”. Maybe that’s just as schlocky but I like it.

Anyway, this was meant to be a quick post but as per usual I’ve rambled far too much. Long story short – I’m impressed. It took awhile but the song has grown on me to the point where I might even prefer it to Skyfall – perhaps someday I’ll do a Bond theme ranking. Will Billie Eilish be scooping up an Oscar just like Sam Smith? Probably not due to the timing of its release which is a pity since it’s much more deserving. Not long to go now until the film itself – you could say there’s no time ‘til No Time to Die.

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The James Bond Blog Post Spectacular

As some of you may know, I’m a bit of a James Bond fan. I’ve been one ever since I was a little kid, giving a show and tell to the rest of my class on the names of all the villains and henchmen, movie titles and Bond girls. (The thought of a nine-year-old talking about Pussy Galore must have given my teacher a chuckle.)

And if you’re a subscriber of mine, there’s been no lack of 007 on the channel over the past 8 years from my pretty naff Skyfall review to my Let’s Play of Everything or Nothing and especially my still-not-finished-but-I’ll-get-there-at-some-point project where I review every James Bond film (give me a break, it’s a mammoth task!)

As well as my digital exploits I’ve also made an effort over the years to visit as much Bond stuff in person. Going to the films themselves is a bit of an obvious example and something I tried to make slightly more special last time when I saw Spectre. What better than to see the brand new film on the biggest screen in the UK? It’s just a pity then that the film was absolutely pants…

The Music of Bond

Turn back the clock to October 31st, 2010 and you’d see me and my friend George take a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to watch the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform The Music of Bond…royally. It was the first big trip to London I’d done with a friend and it ended up being a fantastic show. There’s something magical about hearing fully orchestrated music in the flesh – the hairs on the back of my head stood up and my eyes darted about to focus on each individual instrument being played.

Enjoy the awful quality of my 2010 phone camera!

It was presented by former Bond girl Honor Blackman who played the aforementioned Pussy Galore and throughout the show she sprinkled some quips and insights of her time filming Goldfinger way back in 1964. Two singers were tasked with the audacious job of covering James Bond’s varied collection of theme songs – Simon Bowman and Mary Carewe. Mary was certainly the better singer but that’s to be expected when the songs lean so heavily towards female vocals. Sorry Simon!

One highlight of the concert was a literal one – conductor Carl Davis was adorned in a wonderfully multicoloured coat that sparkled in the spotlights. So much so that he could have nipped over to the West End and joined in with a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Afterwards I decided to purchase a CD recording and even managed to get it signed by Carl Davis too. What a shame that as he was signing all I could think of to fill the air was nervously mutter “…I really like your coat”.

Bond in Motion

Chronologically, next up is my trip to the London Film Museum which I visited in both July 2014 and more recently in September 2018. Since 2014 the museum has been dedicated to the Bond in Motion exhibition that boasts the largest official collection of James Bond vehicles. By no means am I a petrolhead (learning to drive would be a good start) but as a fan of the series I was keen to see the Bond cars up close.

From the classic Aston Martin DB5 to the infamous Lotus Esprit and everything in between, it’s an exhaust-ive array of memorable motor vehicles. So inclusive is it that it even features the crocodile submarine from Octopussy and Blofeld’s bathosub from Diamonds Are Forever…albeit sadly lacking bashed up Blofeld inside. Oh, and if you’re not overly into cars don’t worry – there are plenty of props scattered throughout too!

It’s cheap as chips for a ticket and bang in the centre of London at Covent Garden so if you’re in the city I’d definitely recommend a visit. Just avoid the terrifying waxwork of Sean Connery…

“Shocking. Positively shocking.”

An Evening with Peter Lamont

Not all of my 007 trips have been sunshine and roses however. In fact it was during a cold, dark November night in 2016 I went to see An Evening with Peter Lamont at The Cinema Museum in – you guessed it – London. If you’re wondering who Peter Lamont is he’s none other than the Oscar-winning production designer who worked on 18 of the James Bond films from Goldfinger all the way up to Casino Royale.

(You may shrewdly notice that from Goldfinger to Casino Royale is actually 19 films. He missed Tomorrow Never Dies since he was too busy earning that ‘Oscar-winning’ title working on Titanic.)

With such credentials under his belt, an evening with Peter recounting his James Bond stories and memories seemed too good to miss. Unfortunately I didn’t have the best of times. For starters, the staff at The Cinema Museum were so rude! …Ok, it was just one member of staff really but he really set the evening off to a miserable start by acting so incredulous when I asked about the toilet facilities. I’m not sure why that was such a perplexing question to him but nonetheless he was very patronising.

More crucially I found Peter very hard to follow as he spoke. It wasn’t a large venue by any means (there couldn’t have been more than ~50 people in the audience) but either he wasn’t mic’d up at all or the sound system was very poor. Equally the man was 86 years old at the time and didn’t have the clearest eloquence which meant a lot of his anecdotes were lost on me unfortunately.

And as the cherry on top of problems that evening, I had to leave early to catch the last train home. I’d calculated that if the event ended on time I’d be fine but sadly it overran which meant I had to awkwardly and embarrassingly leave the small venue in front of everyone else whilst Peter was still talking. Oops.

Thankfully there was a silver lining – the event coincided with the release of Peter’s new book, cheesily titled The Man with the Golden Eye which was on sale at a discounted price during the intermission. I managed to nab a copy and even get a signature from the man himself…

Casino Royale in Concert

In October 2017 I returned once again to the Royal Albert Hall for a brand new experience – Casino Royale in Concert. As the name would suggest it was a screening of Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing the score.

It was touted as “the first time an entire Bond score has ever officially been performed live” and featured Gavin Greenaway conducting David Arnold’s fantastic score. Speaking of David Arnold, he was there himself for a preliminary Q&A session before the show began. To be honest the Q&A was too short to contain anything of substance but it was a neat addition nonetheless.

Much like back in 2010, hearing the orchestra perform live was a wonderful experience and brought the film to life before my eyes…and ears. Who needs surround sound when you’ve got the real deal right in front of you? I tried my best not to focus too much on the film itself and savour the live performance by watching the musicians instead. It’s no easy feat, let me tell you! Often I’d snap out of the film and force myself to pay attention to each section of the orchestra.

Sound mixing is no easy task but I do think it could have been better for such a world-class venue. The film dialogue was lost at times due to the volume of the orchestra and the balance wasn’t quite right. Although arguably if it was the other way around I think people would’ve quickly been demanding a refund.

As we all know Casino Royale withholds the titular theme until the very end with Craig’s first delivery of the classic line “Bond…James Bond”. What a tease! But what an ending it provided with the orchestra swelling to the famous theme. The Royal Albert Hall roared with applause and concluded a marvellous evening in London.

The James Bond Concert Spectacular

It was thanks to a brilliant 007-centric YouTuber that I ended up attending my next James Bond event. Calvin Dyson is someone I’ve been watching for many years now from his film reviews to his own playthroughs of the Bond video games. He certainly knows his stuff and back in April released a video reviewing Q The Music’s live show – the James Bond Concert Spectacular.

Spectacular, eh? Well, Calvin seemed to think so which led me to check the band’s tour dates for future performances. Lo and behold they were due to play in Folkestone, a slightly closer venue and one that’d make for a pleasant change from the typical London setting.

Q The Music describes themselves as “the World’s leading James Bond tribute band” and have been performing since 2004 under the founder and manager, Warren Ringham – a “huge James Bond fan” himself. I eagerly booked tickets and headed to Folkestone’s Leas Cliff Hall in August of this year.

And spectacular it was! Dare I say that despite the smaller orchestra it was actually better than the grandiose Royal Albert Hall concert back in 2010. It was compèred by Caroline Bliss – none other than Miss Moneypenny herself from Timothy Dalton’s tenure as 007. Yes, it may well be she’s not top of most Moneypenny rankings but that doesn’t negate the fact she’s absolutely lovely! Along with introducing the songs, she described a little about her own audition process and time spent filming The Living Daylights and License to Kill. It was an engaging insight into the films’ productions and overall she seemed like a wonderfully down-to-earth, charming lady.

The show was packed with a plethora of the classic Bond tunes and a few surprise ones too. Matthew Walker took care of the male vocals for songs such as From Russia with Love and You Know My Name and did a perfectly fine job though at points his voice was lost among the music. It’s also fair to say his singing was more suited to the crooning vocals of We Have All the Time in the World or Thunderball rather than A View to a Kill for example.

Without a doubt it was Kerry Shultz who dominated the show and made it an evening to remember. She covered the varied styles of Bond themes effortlessly from the boisterousness of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger to the dramatic ballad of Adele’s Skyfall. Every performance by Kerry was spot-on as she sashayed her way around the stage in a multitude of dazzling dresses. Together with the occasional fireworks, she truly set the night alight.

At nearly three hours long, the production certainly didn’t lack any songs. Well ok, wisely they chose to omit Die Another Day from the setlist. Unlike the general consensus I happen to think the song is decent but I don’t think even Kerry could’ve tackled the electroclash genre of it live. Instead there were more unexpected inclusions such as the disco-influenced Bond 77 theme from The Spy Who Loved Me and plenty of unused tracks too. Both k.d. lang’s Surrender from Tomorrow Never Dies and Dionne Warwick’s Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang from Thunderball were performances I never envisioned hearing live. The same goes for No Good About Goodbye which is argued to have been a potential theme for Quantum of Solace.

The true testament of the show’s quality lies in that I actually preferred some of their performances compared to the real deal. Kerry’s rendition of Writing’s on the Wall was far superior to the squeakiness of Sam Smith’s and her duet with Matthew singing Another Way to Die harmonised much better than Jack Whites and Alicia Keys’ ever did.

My only criticism was the lack of any strings in the orchestra although this may have been due to the size of the venue. Regardless, I promptly grabbed a copy of their CD and met Kerry afterwards to have it signed. A superb end to a spectacular show indeed. The good news for me is that they’ll be back next year and I strongly recommend you check their website for a performance near you too.

Skyfall in Concert

Most recently I returned to the Royal Albert Hall for a second ‘Films in Concert’ screening, this time of Skyfall. Visiting that gigantic concert hall never gets old and I love exploring all the different levels, admiring the views and enjoying a drink or two while doing so.

Once again the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played alongside the film and overall it was a very similar experience to the one back in 2017 with Casino Royale. I really can’t decide which score I prefer but Thomas Newman’s Skyfall soundtrack is very good (so good in fact that Spectre’s is remarkably similar).

Thomas Newman was there himself in a surprise visit to introduce his brother David who conducted the performance. Equally surprising was Sam Mendes, Skyfall’s director, who came onstage beforehand to give a very brief introduction to the night’s proceedings. It was a nice inclusion to have them both there but I must admit it did seem rather pointless. Why bring two hugely influential creatives onstage for only a few minutes? I’d have much preferred an earlier start time and the inclusion of something more substantial with them. Oh well – perhaps they arrived to watch the performance just like the rest of us…

I did notice a few improvements compared to before, namely the decision to add subtitles to the film screening which helped when the dialogue wasn’t quite loud enough. However the sound mixing this time around was far, far better anyway and never did it feel like the orchestra and the film dialogue were battling against each other to be heard. As the audience applauded the finale for what seemed like an eternity, another tremendous James Bond event in London came to an end.

And that just about does it. I say just about, somehow I’ve managed to write ~2500 words all about James Bond but I guess that goes to show how much I love going to these sorts of things. I’m always keeping an eye out for events in the future so I hope they’ll be many more to come. Speaking of which, I’d better get ready to book No Time To Die tickets at IMAX…

Disneyland Paris – Top 5 Attractions (Part 1)

Last November I stepped foot inside Disneyland Paris for the very first time and if I’m being completely honest, I’ve thought about that trip near enough daily ever since. It wasn’t a very long holiday, just three days spent racking up thousands of steps wandering around the most magical place on Earth™. But as corny as that sounds I really did have an incredible time in that bizarre little bubble of a world at Marne-la-Vallée, located just outside Paris.

Growing up I never really had a ‘proper’ family holiday. Sure, there was the odd trip to the seaside or maybe a castle but nothing that required a stuffed suitcase and especially nothing that required flying. In fact it was as recently as 2016 I took my first flight somewhere – that somewhere being Dublin so let’s face it, not a particularly strenuous journey. That being said my next one was all the way to Toronto so I sort of made up for that I guess.

So without that stereotypical childhood trip to Disneyland I never really registered it as a place to visit as I grew older. I assumed I’d missed my window of opportunity and that the only adults who went there were either parents or those weird Disneyland fanatics who have annual season passes and track every minutia of change within the parks.

What a fool I was! The many years of enjoying theme park simulators from Theme Park World to Planet Coaster should have been a major giveaway. As too should the hours of reading Disneyland-related wiki pages learning how the parks were created. All that and yet I never really thought about travelling the three hours or so away from where I live to see it for myself. Man am I dumb sometimes. Thankfully one of the benefits of having a significant other is that you end up doing a lot more stuff as a couple. Even more thankfully, one idea of theirs was to go to Disneyland Paris and so we did. After searching for a decent Eurostar/hotel/park entry package online, we picked a late November midweek to visit in the hopes of avoiding big tourist crowds before the Christmas holidays but still seeing the park festive themed.

I won’t go into too much detail about the whole trip since I rambled for ages on a JFS Minecraft episode so if you’re curious and want to hear more, go give that a watch instead. What I wanted to do for this blog post is make a Top 5 list of my favourite rides and attractions in the park. We managed to see or ride almost everything we wanted to during our short trip and now I’ve had a fair bit of time to reflect on them.

I’ll preface this by noting that obviously we didn’t go on any of the little kiddy rides so don’t expect those. (I think if we’d done that, people would have assumed we were the Disneyland fanatics or worse, creepy guys hanging around small children without any children of our own…no thanks!) And I guess one more thing to note is that whilst all these rides and attractions I’m about to list are great fun in their own right, it’s also the bits in between that make Disneyland so special. It’s the park as a whole from the architectural mastery of hiding immersion-breaking features to the subtle landscape changes as one area blends into the next. It’s the jolly music as you walk through the central plaza and the smell of fresh popcorn in the air. The horse and carriage roaming the streets and the actors being chased by frantic children. Ok, I think you get the point – I’ll stop fawning and get on the with list. Well not quiet, let’s get some honourable mentions out of the way first – rides or attractions that I thoroughly enjoyed but that didn’t quite make the cut.

Liberty & Discovery Arcade

First up is Liberty Arcade and Discovery Arcade, two areas of the park situated either side of Main Street. I was very close to putting Main Street, U.S.A in this spot instead because let’s face it, that view as you initially enter the park is pretty magnificent. As the first themed land you’ll see, the rows of 1920’s shops and stores that stretch all the way up to the central plaza are chock-a-block full of detail and charm. And watching the Christmas parade frolic on through it as ‘snow’ poured out of the chimneys above was something to behold. But I wanted to single out these two streets either side of it instead, because there’s just something about them that I adored during my trip to the park.

The reason for these two arcades alongside Main Street U.S.A stems from the difference in climate compared to sunny Anaheim and Florida. Park guests would need a sheltered route through to the rest of the park in case of rain, which sadly is quite often! Practically, I loved these arcades since the line of shops down Main Street back onto them and allow you to sneak out and dodge all the crowds. But it’s their actual theming that makes them so captivating.

If you’ve ever played the game BioShock Infinite, you’d recognise that turn-of-the-century style and think you’ve suddenly been transported to the airborne city of Columbia. Both arcades are adorned with that neoclassical, colonial architecture and are aglow with gas lamps lining the ceilings. Liberty Arcade, as the name would suggest, focuses on the history of the Statue of Liberty, a wise choice given its American/French connection. Discovery Arcade on the other hand features inventions and discoveries during the 20th  Century. Since our trip was in November, the nights were drawing in and as it grew darker it was wonderful to walk through these arcades and feel the warm glow of the gas lamps as you study the intricacies of not only the displays but also of the construction itself. Despite standing in the grossly commercialised location of Disneyland far away from home, the arcades were a bizarrely comforting place to be in.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril

I had no idea Disneyland Paris featured an Indiana Jones themed roller coaster until I was sat 40m under the sea on the Eurostar deciding which rides were a must-see during our trip. Turns out Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril has been there since 1993! I had always assumed it was Disney properties only within the park (excluding Disney Studios which has all sorts). Jump forward to today and now Disney owns Indiana Jones through its purchase of LucasFilm – funny how things work out.

As a big Indy fan, I was excited although hesitant to ride the roller coaster – I’m definitely not one of those thrill-seekers and the thought of riding the likes of some roller coasters found in Alton Towers or Thorpe Park terrifies me. Not only for the heights and drops and twists and turns but also for what it might to do my stomach and the poor person in front of me. With our app stating a queue time of 0 minutes we headed over since I decided there was no point in coming to Disneyland if I was going to wuss out on all the big rides.

The landscaping of the queuing system is fantastic as you make your way through jungle camps and spot that signature hat and whip along the way. Eventually you climb up the ancient temple to ride the roller coaster itself and before you know it you’re strapped in and ready to go. Everything is sounding great so far, why is it only a special mention you may be asking. Let’s just say that for me, the peril of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril was very real. The coaster features a loop and I had no clue whether or not to keep my glasses on. I opted to wear them which as you can probably guess was a bit of a mistake. Up comes the loop and off comes my glasses…my only pair of glasses I’d brought with me on the trip. I didn’t really want to appreciate the rest of the park as a blurry mess so I grabbed the glasses as they fell off my face and held onto them for dear life as the ride continued. Thankfully it’s quite a short roller coaster but in all the commotion I missed most of the ride. So that’s why Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril didn’t quite make the cut – sure, it taught me a good lesson in taking off my glasses for the remainder of the trip but only at the cost of a small heart-attack.

Phantom Manor

Ah, Phantom Manor – my favourite ride I…never actually went on. And for that reason it makes the special mention list since I’m pretty sure if I had, it’d be up there at the top instead. Phantom Manor, as the spooky name would suggest, is a ‘ghost ride’ similar to the Haunted Mansions found in other Disneylands. I’m a sucker for classic, cheesy spookiness and the ride’s inclusion of laughing skeletons, changing portraits and dancing ghosts is just my cup of tea.

In fact I’d appreciated Phantom Manor long before this trip but just completely forgot about it. In Episode 78 of my Minecraft FTB Let’s Play I built a haunted house and took huge inspiration from (i.e. copied) Phantom Manor, complete with spooky interactive features inside as if it were a real ride.

The cherry on the cake is that the narration, which told the story of Henry Ravenswood and his haunted Victorian manor, was originally voiced by none other than the wonderful Vincent Price. They really couldn’t have picked a better choice given Price’s history in the horror genre and his perfectly petrifying voice. I mean let’s face it, what would Michael Jackson’s Thriller be without Vincent Price’s blood-curdling final laugh? Sadly it was mostly replaced only a few months after the ride’s opening in 1992 with a primarily French version by Gérard Chevalier. Just as sad is the fact the ride was closed during my visit! Between Jan 2018 and April 2019, the ride was shut down for refurbishment to update special effects and give the ride some much need TLC. The good news is asof May 3rd 2019 it’s finally reopened which just means I’ll need to plan another trip to the park in the future. Better yet, with this refurbishment they’ve restored the original Vincent Price narration so I’ll finally be able to appreciate his villainous voice as I make my way into the depths of the manor.

Blimey I know I can ramble but I didn’t imagine writing 1700+ words on just the introduction and special mentions! In order to stop this becoming more of a novella rather than a blog post, I’ll end it here. In the next part I’ll address my actual top 5 rides and attractions but considering how long it takes me to write, I’d probably have visited the park again by then…

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Me, Myself and My Banana

Well would you look at that, it’s only gone and turned 2019!

With that being the case, I think it’s long overdue I revive this dusty ol’ blog and actually use it. As mentioned in my 8 Year Anniversary Special (yes, it’s really been that long), I dropped the ball so hard with my original plan to blog that said ball burrowed through the Earth’s layers and popped up somewhere in Australia instead.

So the plan to write blog posts semi-regularly fell through completely. Clearly I was just too happy with my previous Simpsons game essay to bother writing anymore. Sure, I was pleased with it and I hope some others enjoyed reading but…it’s hardly worth purchasing an entire WordPress site for, is it?

To kick things off I thought I’d write up a bit about my thought process when it came to the new look of the channel – the ‘rebrand’ so to speak. And with that comes a look back at my older designs too, and the realisation of just how horrible some of them were. But before all that, maybe it’s time I quickly addressed a question I get quite often…

So, er, what’s the deal with the banana?

People ask me why my logo is a pixelated banana rather frequently believe it or not. It’s a fair question I suppose – I mean what does a banana have to do with a YouTube video game channel anyway?

I’ve never fully answered that question in the past and usually brushed it off with a casual “oh, I can’t remember really.” Lies! I do remember where it came from but even if I told you it wouldn’t make much sense.

Y’see I used to write a little blog back in the day. We’re talking earlier than my YouTube channel, probably by a year or so. No-one ever read it of course, all I was really doing was writing up some silly posts for my own benefit. That stupid blog is a whole other decidedly embarrassing project that warrants its own blog post so I won’t go into too much detail. What I will say is that I named it something banana related…for some reason. In all honesty that’s the bit I really can’t remember because it certainly wasn’t a banana recipe blog, it was more like my own inane ramblings. Akin to a crazy person stuck in a room talking to themselves. In many ways I still do that, just into a microphone for the world to see instead of writing them down.

Not long after creating that blog was when I took my first step into the world of Let’s Plays and after the frustrating process of picking a name for it*, I was then stuck on what to set as my profile picture. To make things easy I just nabbed the banana I had used from the blog and voila, my channel was born! And boy, what an ugly baby…

*I’ve mentioned frequently how I originally wanted my channel to simply be called Muckluck but since that channel name was taken, YouTube kept adding suggestions to the word until eventually I ended up with the abomination that was MrMuckluckable. Dark times. I’m glad YouTube finally got their act together and let me change it.

Back where it all began

I had the name, I had the logo. Great! But wait, what about the rest of it? Intros and outros, backgrounds and fonts, all that stuff mattered to me just as much as the actual video content. I’ve always loved art and design throughout my childhood and into school, from Sats to GCSEs to A-Levels. (Speaking of which, I may show off some old pieces of art from school in future blog posts. Artchives!) However, looking at my first foray into design for the channel, you’d perhaps think otherwise.

My old YouTube channel
Here’s a dose of YouTube nostalgia for ya

This is the earliest snapshot of my channel I have unfortunately. It’s actually taken from my One Year Anniversary Special video, hence the terrible quality but it’ll just have to do. One thing that’s obvious from the get-go is that blue has always been my main brand colour. It’s probably my favourite colour (ok, maybe turquoise but close enough) and throughout all the designs it’s stuck around. Am I too old to have a favourite colour? Is that just a kid’s thing? Who knows.

For some reason I decided to pick a dot pattern as my main background and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Alright I guess it’s not awful but it certainly is dull and doesn’t work with the pixelated nature of the banana. With hindsight, it would have been smarter for me to pick something square-ish in that regard.

But it gets worse. Not long afterwards YouTube changed its design (the first of many) and took away the ability to customise your background. Instead we were left with only a banner to modify and this is the design I eventually whipped up…

My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

How to make that dull dot pattern worse? Stick a nasty gradient on top of it. Gradients in design aren’t naturally bad but, more often than not, they look terrible. In my opinion you’ve got to be subtle with them and that white gradient is anything but.

Oh look, a font too. To match the pixelated banana, I chose a pixelated font. It’s actually a TrueType version of the font used on Apple II computers back in 1970s called Print Char 21. So if anyone happens to have one of those and boots it up, you might be reminded of me.

I kept using that font up until only very recently when I rebranded the channel in January 2019. About time, eh? Looking back, I should have changed it sooner – not only is it quite sterile and dull, but it’s also quite limiting in its use. And perhaps most importantly, I don’t really think it reflects me. Sure it kinda reminds you of retro video games but the font style is quite aggressive and no fun at all.

Sometimes I wouldn’t even bother with a background! Take a look at some of these masterpieces I created between 2012 and 2017. Talk about laziness…

I-dent see an issue

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Believe it or not there is something I’m still happy with from back in the day. Towards the end of 2014 I finally decided to create an outro for videos and make use of annotations which YouTube had introduced in 2008.

Old Channel Outro

Outros are the ideal spot to recommend more videos or playlists for the viewer. Back then of course there was no auto-suggest feature that YouTube uses now, so instead I made multiple versions each with different Let’s Plays which I’d link through to. Stick on a couple of references to my Twitter and Twitch and Bob’s your uncle, I was set!

Except not quite. The outro couldn’t be silent after all, so the next issue was what song to use for it. I remember looking all over the web for royalty free music to ensure that my videos weren’t unnecessarily struck with copyright claims.

Kevin MacLeod, or Incompetech.com, is probably one of the most prolific music makers heard on YouTube because of his vast royalty free music collection. Skim through some of his tracks and you’re bound to recognise something from Sneaky Snitch to Spazzmatica Polka. I eventually opted for Hyperfun, a bouncy, bright and humorous track by his own definition and something I thought suited an outro well.

Keep it simple stupid

My channel design stayed pretty much the same until around midway through 2017. It was at that point I was about to start two new Let’s Plays (Escape from Monkey Island and a replay of Destroy All Humans! 2). For a while I’d been eager to modernise my branding and that seemed like the most logical point to do so.

But after 6 years it felt as if it has been too long to drop everything. By that point my channel identity was pretty much synonymous with that silly pixelated banana, or at least in my head it was. And at any rate I wasn’t looking for too drastic a change, just a little something to spice things up and bring my channel up to date with newer design trends.

And that design trend was the rise of flat design. From 2014 onwards, flat design has dominated the likes of Apple and Google – just take a look at the app icons on your phone. Granted I was a little bit late to the party but that simplified style was something I wanted to implement into my channel.

Ultimately, I scrapped the individual pixels of colour in the banana and replaced them with a gradient. Gasp. Shock. Horror! But Muckluck, you said gradients normally look terrible? Alright, I replaced them with a very subtle gradient that’s hardly noticeable. I think the concept worked and eventually I added in a long shadow aspect to it too for things like banners and an updated outro.

To counteract the sharpness of the shadows I tried adding a small amount of background paper texture and even played around with different fonts such as Lemon/Milk and Plump. For consistency’s sake, the Print Char 21 font remained but for the most part it all looked a bit more crisp and clean.

New year, new me

A similar situation caused the most recent design change. Towards the end of 2018, with no Let’s Plays going on and a whole lot of time off from work thanks to the Christmas break, I decided to rebrand once again. I wasn’t necessarily unhappy with the look at the time but there was still that little voice in the back of my head thinking it could represent me a bit better.

The seed had been planted for a new look way back in September 2017 with my video How I Create Let’s Plays. Since that was a standalone video I decided to do things a bit differently and opted for a more handmade, messy design. Roughly cut-out edges and squiggly lines made things look friendlier and when it came time to update the whole brand; this is the style I wanted.

There were other factors too. It just so happened that in my YouTube homepage recommendations a SuperMega video was suggested. SuperMega is a channel I’d heard of before but never got around to actually watching. To be honest, that’s still the case now but the thing that did catch my eye was their logo.

I love it. I love the blocky, square design of it and the wobbly hand drawn strokes. It has a retro feel to it but not overly so – it could work with anything really. I dug a bit deeper and discovered their intro, an incredibly short but effective clip of their logo animating. I say animating, the term is boiling. It’s actually what I was referring to when I mentioned the squiggly lines of my How I Create Let’s Plays video. Boiling is simply redrawing the lines of a picture and alternating between slightly different frames of it to create a tiny amount of animation – it’s a cheap and easy way to add visual interest to a video.

So that was it – that was the style I was after. It’s more welcoming and fun. It’s more laidback and flexible. Looking at my finished product it’d be fair to suggest I simply copied their logo but that was never the intention. Alongside the hand drawn style, I had wanted to move away from relying on the banana logo in branding for a long time. Sure, I bet a lot of people associate it with me but from a far too serious business perspective, I’d prefer people to recognise the word Muckluck more instead. I wanted to emphasise my actual name more and what that meant it putting it front and centre, not the banana.

But how would I achieve that style? I looked around for fonts that better matched the wobbly design I was after. The previously mentioned Plump font cropped up and at one point I was very close to using that until a thought struck. If I wanted a homely hand drawn effect then why don’t I just draw it myself?

Bingo! I had the image of a new logo floating around clearly in my head. No existing font was going to match that so the smartest option was just to knuckle down and do it myself. I’ve heard from graphic designer friends that creating a font from scratch is an absolutely nightmare. It’s something never to attempt unless you really want to work hard and perfect it. I certainly didn’t have time for that over Christmas so instead I opted just to draw the letters of the logo and leave it there for now. I am quickly realising the need for a full version with every character but hey, that’s something for future Joe to worry about.

It took a couple of attempt to nail the look I wanted but let me tell you, there’s nothing better than putting pen to paper and figuring things out the old fashioned way.

Oh and we can’t forget about the banana too. At one point I was very close to dropping it all together but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. One thing was for sure though; the old pixelated design wouldn’t match all at anymore. Something had to be done. At first I messed around with simplifying it a tad, removing a few pixels here and there but it was starting to lose its shape too much. Then I noticed how the L from Muckluck sort of matched the curve of a banana and with a little flip and edit, it all worked out. I’m not sure I’m 100% happy with it but it fits and, like I mentioned, I’m eager to call attention to the word Muckluck instead anyway.

Finishing up

With the logo finished there were only a couple things to make before putting it all live. For a fast video intro similar to SuperMega, I decided to add a quick animation in making the letters ‘grow’ accompanied by a video game-esque sound effect. I actually created that sound effect myself using a brilliant website called bxfr.net which allows to you play around with all sorts of weird and wonderful settings. Go have a play around and see what you can come up with.

I put this animation on a clean blue background and, unlike in the past, I’m making an effort to stick to that particular shade of blue. No dodgy eye dropper tool on Photoshop to guess it, I’ve used it so much recently I’ve even got the hex code memorised. #1495ee! I’m dubbing it Muckluck Blue. Maybe try painting your walls with it, see how it looks.

The great thing about using a plain background is that it’s so customisable. Another concept I’ve always wanted to use is to alter my branding to match the theme of various Let’s Plays. Think of it like the old MTV idents or Ahoy’s numerous altered logos. And yep, you guessed it, SuperMega do it too. It’s something I could never really do before since I never had an intro but oh boy, now I’ve got lots of options and it didn’t take long to start using them.

Pair those with an updated outro which is organised a bit better and now finally includes a link to this blog and boom, we’re pretty much done! Oh right, the outro music. Perhaps I should gloss over that because instead of some nice royalty free track from Kevin MacLeod again or one from YouTube’s own copyright free audio library, I pinched the track from none other than Nintendo. Woops. Nintendo are perhaps the most fussy when it comes to copyright claims but to be fair, I did test it out and so far it’s been fine.

The tune is actually from Pilotwings on SNES, on the screen where you enter a password. Perhaps that’s just too oddly specific for Nintendo’s bots to pick up on but if anything does happen I’ll just change it. It was after hearing the track on one of Mike Matei’s live streams that I figured it was just too darn good not to use. Chiptune-y enough to match my video game related channel but also calm and unassuming enough to work as background music. Perfect!

Phew, that was more than I was expecting to write. I suppose I should get used to that – rambling is in my nature after all. And hey if you made it this far then well done and a big thanks for reading. It’s actually been a bit nostalgic digging through my old files and taking a look back at the visual history of my channel. The graphic design aspect of content creating has been a bigger deal to me than I’d previously thought – evidenced quite clearly by this nearly 3000 word post. I hope people like the new look I’m going for but if this load of waffle is anything to go by, no doubt it’ll be changing again in the future…

What is the future of The Simpsons video games?

Over its 28 year history, spanning 29 seasons and 600+ episodes, The Simpsons has racked up its fair share of video games. Not content with its breakout success on the Fox network, the show entered into the console world just 2 years after its debut with Bart vs. the Space Mutants in 1991. Business execs were keen to ride the wave of Bartmania sweeping across the nation and fans were equally as eager to play as the “underachiever and proud of it.” It’s no wonder then why 6 more Bart-centric games were released between 1991 and 1992 alone, all to varying degrees of success. Quantity over quality was the driving factor but as the decade progressed, the video games broadened away from Bart’s adventurous exploits and into new territory.

Krusty’s Fun House, released in 1994, was a Lemmings-style puzzle game centred on Krusty’s, er, infamous rat infestation?  The Simpsons Cartoon Studio came out a couple of years later in 1996 giving players the ability to create their very own animations, albeit with a rather limited choice of options. (Though once you’ve created murderous lawn mowing Ned Flanders, is there anything else you really need?).  And the following year in 1997, we were able to tour ‘America’s Crud Bucket’ itself with Virtual Springfield.

With the television show proving to remain ever as popular into a new millennium, the video games showed no signs of stopping either. The advance in computer graphics and home console power produced a number of video game titles throughout the early noughties from Tony Hawk rip-offs to…Crazy Taxi rip-offs. If parents were worried about their children wishing to indulge in murderous, crime-ridden escapades with the GTA franchise, The Simpsons Hit & Run offered a mighty similar family-friendly alternative in 2003. In fact, the worst you could probably do in ‘GTA: Springfield’ was kick a pedestrian and watch them shoot straight upwards into the air, only to land and carry on as if nothing had ever happened. In 2007 the aptly-named The Simpsons Game was released on just about every home console available at the time and featured a richer storyline with more varied game play.

In the span of 16 years, a whopping 23 video games had been created under The Simpsons license by a variety of developers. 2D platform, 3D platform, puzzle, wrestling, racing – you certainly can’t fault them for trying out a range of genres, even if the majority of them were of relatively poor quality. However, in the 10 years that have passed since 2007 fans of The Simpsons have only been treated to a further 4 video games.  All of them were mobile games and the most recent was released in 2012. It’s been 5 years now with no signs of a new game so what gives?

The Simpsons game that’s not a game

The Simpsons: Tapped Out has been the newest offering for gamers for quite some time now. The main issue being that The Simpsons: Tapped Out isn’t a regular video game – it’s a freemium game, which in effect means it’s barely a game at all. Freemium (or free-to-play) games work on the concept of giving the foundation of a game to the player with the ability to unlock more of it as they play. Except the term ‘play’ is used very loosely since it most often involves simply waiting for a particular task to be completed.

In The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Homer has caused yet another meltdown and obliterated the town of Springfield. It’s up to the player to rebuild the area and along the way collect characters we all know and love from the television show. So on an extremely basic level The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a city-building simulation game, akin to the SimCity or Anno franchises. A city-building simulation game themed around The Simpsons is something I was originally interested in but after learning it was a freemium mobile app I quickly lost interest. It wasn’t until 2014 after I’d bought a brand new phone that I took the punt and downloaded it, hoping to waste away some quiet lunch breaks at work and finally see what all the fuss was about.

Roughly 1 month later, I’d had enough. The main problem with The Simpsons: Tapped Out doesn’t take a month to notice but over that period all of its faults bubbled up to the surface and became horribly apparent. There were bugs, crashes, lazy writing and boring quests but the major fault was crystal clear within the first 10 minutes of ‘game play’ and it came as no surprise. The introduction of donuts, the premium in-game currency, highlighted all the content locked away behind pay walls, only available to desperate players by spending at least £1.49/$1.99/€1.99 at a time. There are other methods to earn donuts but in most cases they’re slow to obtain or require an excessive amount of attention. Worst of all, you probably won’t get enough to unlock that building you’ve been wanting anyway.

Frugal players left to earn donuts without spending obscene amounts on microtransactions can look forward to mindless tapping on buildings to collect XP and cash. Afterwards, they can manage their citizens of Springfield to ensure they complete quests ranging from waiting a few minutes to waiting days at a time. But don’t worry; this literal waiting game can be sped up with the purchase of donuts.

The final nail in the coffin for me was the realisation that unless I spent an absurd amount of time keeping up with the game’s timed special events, some content would be permanently inaccessible. In the short space of time I played, numerous events occurred that required you to constantly keep on top of the citizen management before time ran out. Actual timed deadlines in a video game? I’m sure people have enough of those at school or work – aren’t games meant to be…fun?

Perhaps to some people the pressure of those timed events is fun. Perhaps to some people the shallow citizen management system is enough to be considered game play. Perhaps I’m the one who finds it difficult to separate the genres of freemium games and regular console-based gaming. These sorts of apps aren’t for engrossing yourself into during long sittings – they’re 5 minute checkups sporadically throughout the day. A quick tap and it is back to work or time to catch the train or ready to take dinner out of the oven. From that description, it all sounds rather fine and dandy – if gamers like that sort of thing then so be it, what’s the problem?

I call him Gamblor!

The computer game industry exists to create money, let’s get that out of the way. As much as video games can be considered art, the likes of Electronic Arts, Activision and Nintendo aren’t making them purely out of the kindness of their hearts. With AAA games now costing more than ever to create, executive boards and investors want to see their rising expenditure reflected with rising profits. The landscape of gaming has changed enormously and for these large companies, simply selling an individual copy isn’t enough. Season passes, downloadable content, pre-order bonuses, microtransactions and loot boxes are slowly but surely becoming the industry norm. Anywhere they can make an easy profit, they’ll try. In fact, there’s an entire industry built around easy profiteering, one that is spreading further and further into video games…

The Simpsons: Tapped Out is gambling. It largely exists to exploit users into spending money and masks itself under the false pretences of a video game. Its hand outs of free donuts and new buildings every now and then are the pretty waitresses who come and top up your booze to ensure you keep playing on those video poker machines. Scratch-R cards are literal lottery tickets available to purchase and try your luck with. The app has been designed from the ground up to utilize humankind’s addictive nature and unfortunately for the players, the house always wins.

In its first year of release, The Simpsons: Tapped Out earned EA over $100 million. It was the top grossing app around the world in countries from Canada to Belgium. In other words, it worked. The teasing of locked content, the ease of which to purchase just a few donuts more, the…lack of much else to actually do in the game created the perfect storm for it to succeed. Whether it was eager children unaware of what they were tapping or adults who just couldn’t resist, $100 million equates to a lot of players falling prey to the game’s rather blatant tactics. Fast forward four years and The Simpsons: Tapped Out racked up 37.5 billion minutes of playtime and 19.6 billion donuts consumed, proving to remain popular despite huge competition on the app marketplace. There’s no denying that, as shallow as the game is, players are hooked and keep coming back. With the main fan site of the game being called ‘TSTO Addicts’ however, that should come as little surprise. If you’d like to find out in much more detail the addictive nature of The Simpsons: Tapped Out and how it uses the psychological tricks of slots and video poker, I highly suggest reading the mini-book Tapped In: How EA Combined The Simpsons with Video Gambling to Make $130 Million (and counting) by Charlie Sweatpants.

With a captive audience willing to spend hefty amounts of money on in-game microtransactions, EA have placed themselves in the perfect position to receive big profits for little cost. When compared to AAA game titles, The Simpsons: Tapped Out and other mobile app games cost pittance in comparison. Smaller development teams and server overheads make those microtransactions even more profitable but it’s certainly not limited to mobile. As mention, gambling components have been implemented more and more into video games, a notable example being the newly released Star Wars Battlefront II. Thankfully such moves have been met with negative reception though some franchises now contain gambling as standard. For example, FIFA’s ‘Ultimate Team’ relies on purchasing loot packs of football player cards and auctioning them to achieve the best team. Currently EA is testing the waters and pushing their luck to see just how many microtransactions they can add a top a $60 price tag and they’ll continue to do so. Remember, this is the same company that was voted ‘America’s Worst Company’ twice in succession.

What better way to note the success of The Simpsons: Tapped Out than to look to the imitations that ensued. The game set a path for similar properties to follow suit, eager to grab that lucrative share of the mobile app market. Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff was released in 2014 and is essentially a carbon copy of The Simpsons: Tapped Out where players must rebuild a destroyed Quahog and reunite Peter Griffin with his friends and family. More recently in 2017, Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow was released in which players must reconstruct New New York and save Fry’s friends. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. The most obvious similarity here is that all three properties are (or at least were) produced by Fox. However, it’s also interesting to note that all three once had fully-fledged video games released in the past, only to have stopped ever since entering into the mobile app market.

There’s an argument to be made that as tempting as developers make purchasing premium in-game currency, only a very small percentage of players actually spend money on freemium games. Reports have said as little as 0.19% of all players account for over 48% of an app’s revenue. These types of gamers are no different to the big spenders at the casinos, known as ‘whales’ in the industry. Whether they have boat loads of disposable income or are weak to the addictive environment of mobile games, these are the players keeping many games afloat. It is certainly a grey area in terms of how such games should be governed and, as is always the case; the law is constantly playing catch up with technology. With that being said, most people know their limits and how to spend their own money wisely. If the majority players are sensibly utilising the ‘free’ in freemium, what is the real issue?

Simply put, due to The Simpsons: Tapped Out EA have no incentive to create a new Simpsons video game. With small development and running costs, decent profits and a dependable audience invested in creating their own Springfield towns, why bother wasting money creating something bigger? More to the point, is there even a place for a brand new game based on The Simpsons in this day and age?

I used to be with ‘it’, then they changed what ‘it’ was…

Perhaps the most obvious reason for the lack of video games based on The Simpsons is one that most fans have known for some time now – the animated sitcom is well past its prime. Without diving into the mammoth topic of quite why it isn’t as good as it used to be, why it’s changed so much over 28 years and why it’ll never be the same again, The Simpsons certainly isn’t as popular as it was even 10 years ago, never mind 20. Current episodes typically receive around 4 million viewers, nothing compared to during the height of its success in the early 1990s where it would regularly reach over 20 million. It’s only logical that as the show’s popularity has decreased, so has the reasoning to continue creating video games based on it.

And if we’re being totally honest, The Simpsons: Tapped Out isn’t the newest offering for fans of the series to play. In 2015, Lego Dimensions was released – an action-adventure video game similar to Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s amiibo system. After purchasing the base game as a starter pack, players were able to buy additional packs of Lego toys which unlocked levels and characters from a variety of franchises. One such franchise was The Simpsons, which is hardly surprising given the popularity of their Lego range beginning in 2014 with a minifigure collection and later expanding to complete sets for The Simpsons House and the Kwik-E-Mart. Not to mention the Season 25 episode “Brick Like Me”, also released in 2014 which saw Homer wake up in alternate reality made out of Lego bricks.

Ever since 2005 with the release of Lego Star Wars, the library of franchises given the Lego video game treatment has grown rapidly. Perhaps the minifigure collection was a sign of things to come, something fans of The Simpsons were eagerly waiting for – a fully-fledged Lego Simpsons game. The open world, family-friendly nature of the Lego games would make for a perfect spiritual-successor to The Simpsons Hit & Run. Unfortunately, in Lego Dimensions we’re treated to a rather lifeless open world version of Springfield as well a level based on the episode “The Mysterious Voyage of Homer”. It’s certainly not terrible content but the gimmick of mixing together various characters means playing alongside Wonder Women and Gandalf detracts from feeling like a true Simpsons video game. Besides, any hope of additional content for Lego Dimensions has been firmly dashed since the announcement of its cancellation in October 2017.

There is one ray of light to look to as a shining example of how it should be done – South Park. Much like The Simpsons, South Park has also had its fair share of video games ever since its debut. But what makes the two series so different in this regard is the personalities of its creators. Whilst Matt Groening is still involved in the production of The Simpsons, it’s certainly not to the same level as Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Over 20 years, the two have led the way in writing, directing and voice acting. They’re very much responsible for the show’s well known cutting satire on a wide range of topics and with only a 6-day turn around in creating an episode; the show has the ability to react very quickly to current trends.

And thankfully for South Park fans, Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t fans of games such as The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff. In 2014 they even released an episode titled “Freemium Isn’t Free” ridiculing the popularity of freemium mobile apps and their potential addictiveness. In fact, they aren’t even fans of their own video games. Early on in the show’s history, the two signed a publishing deal with Acclaim to create South Park video games to…lacklustre results. South Park, South Park: Chef’s Luv Shack and South Park Rally were all poorly received and according to Trey Parker “they just screwed up every game we did, it sucks.” Hence why in 2014, they were eager to make amends for their past mistakes and create a South Park game they had much more control over. And being video gamers themselves, they knew more about the type of game they wanted to see – ultimately a turn-based RPG titled ‘South Park: The Stick of Truth’.

After a troubled production involving numerous delays, South Park: The Stick of Truth was met with positive reviews on its release, praising it as a successful adaptation of licensed material to a video game. The game had the luxury of being able to look completely identical to the show and faithfully mirror its animation style. For its sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Trey Parker even watched online Let’s Plays of The Stick of Truth to see the ways in which game play could be improved and what actual players thought of it. The question is would anyone from The Simpsons do the same? Does Matt Groening understand the intricacies of video games and their production? Has Al Jean watched Let’s Plays of The Simpsons: Hit & Run? (ahem) Would anyone from Fox or EA see profits still roll in from The Simpsons: Tapped Out and want to move on to something else? To quote Leonard Nimoy – the answer is no.

So what is the future of The Simpsons video games?

Honestly, it’s not looking good…