Unrequested Update: November

The Dice Man by ‘Luke Rhinehart’ (again)
A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell
Continuing to slug away at Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire.
Have finished (and recommend) The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Euroleague basketball as a poor replacement for the NBA
How It’s Made, a show about—incredibly—how things are made. Did you know bus seats are essentially knife-proof?
Brain Games, as I have a man-crush on its host Jason Silva

Hitman: Absolution, in short sessions (not the ideal way to play a Hitman game)
And still inching through Half-Life 2

Wellness – November is No Chocolate or Fizzy Drinks Six Days a Week Month. Not the catchiest of names, I know. After the first week I felt healthier. Since then I haven’t noticed a difference, and I wonder if what I felt initially was a placebo effect. I’m also doing a bit more mobility work (following the Leopard King’s instructions), which is working to combat the effects of sitting at a desk all day.

I’m intrigued by big idea people at the moment: Elon Musk trying to colonise Mars. Kevin Kelly wants to bring back the mammoth. Tony Robbins is trying to provide 100 million meals for the poor. 100 million.


New Post—on Aliens: Colonial Marines

I’ve written my first post on Medium.com, about the not-quite-perfect videogame Aliens: Colonial Marines. Click here to read it (only if you want). Again, I don’t like to discuss the quality of my writing when mentioning my posts, because oh god lagoon of sadness why do I do this etc etc. But I will take satisfaction from knowing that post is much better than it was originally shaping up to be. I’ve got nine different drafts of it in Google Docs. Nine.

I thought writing about a bad game would be easy—at least I’d have some emotional response to the game, instead of being trapped in Meh, uh, County, and I’d have a lot of stuff to comment on. Too much to comment on, it appeared, and I hard time reducing. I took my usual horrible approach to writing it: throwing together some notes, then fleshing them out one at a time without thought to structure. End result: an unordered list of points 4,000 words long.

For a change I was patient with editing, eventually finding a shape to hang those points on. I tied it together the best I could, then realised this was as good as I was going to get.

On the plus side, I got to post on Medium.com, a site that’s intrigued me for a while. Its text editor is a joy. I still think I’ll write my posts elsewhere and paste them over, but Medium is pretty.

My focus now is to find a more efficient writing method. I bought Scrivener (on sale for a grand total of £12) and, once I figure out how to use it, I’ll try and break my notes for longer posts into more manageable sections before I go longhand.

Another Gamesbeat post

My Gamesbeat posts are like buses: none exist for over a year, then two arrive within a week of each other. And nobody likes them. All they smell of pee.

Last-Gen Memories is me looking back on my favourite moments of PS3 and 360 games (my favourite generation of consoles). It feels like somewhat of a goodbye, but more to the time I spent gaming more than the hardware itself.

Click here to read it.

And if anyone is fancies reading some sub-par games writing, all my Gamesbeat/Bitmob posts are here

Link: new Call of Duty post on Gamesbeat

Way back in the day (2011-12), I used to write the odd gaming post for a community games-writing site called Bitmob. Business and tech site Venturebeat bought Bitmob  and renamed it Gamesbeat around the same time I lost interest in gaming, so I never wrote anything for the new site.

Until now

Back in the Bitmob days I drafted a post about Vorkuta, a great level from the otherwise humdrum 2010 Call of Duty game Black Ops, which fell into my thick pile of unfinished posts. But at the weekend I resurrected it and used it as my first Gamesbeat article.

You can read it here.

Gamesbeat’s text editor is much easier to use than Bitmob’s, and in full-screen it’s minimalist and pretty. I just wish I had control over thumbnails—in their feed the pic for my post is of a shoulder. What clickbait that is.

My standards are low (I have read my own writing after all), but I’m quite fond of the post. But what I struggled with was knowing what to leave out. I was basically telling the story of the level, making points along the way. So I felt like, if I omitted a segment, I wasn’t telling the full story. Considering the level breaks down into eight steps, it would seem weird to detail 1-4, then jump to 7. So I ended up writing 2,000 words about a single level, which is probably more than I could write about some Call of Duty games. I enjoyed writing it, it sounds more like the way I speak than most of my posts. So it’s got some voice to it, even if that voice is one no one cares to hear. Or read. Or whatever


Dull end of year posts already? My books, films and games of 2013

Note that I’m behind the times with media; on these lists are those I experienced in 2013, with no regard to actual release date.


My top three, in reverse order:

3) Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace
DFW’s non-fiction can alternate between incredible and incredibly frustrating. Authority and American Usage, his 62 pages on grammar and language, is a tough read. But his articles on an adult cinema expo, the 2000 US presidential campaign, athletes’ autobiographies, and the lobster we’ve to consider of the title, all make for great reading.

2) Chasing the Sea, by Tom Bissell
Bissell’s book on computer games, Extra Lives, is one of my favourites. The other books of his I’ve read (Magic Hours, the Father of all Things) were on subjects (creativity, the Vietnam War) I was less interested in and so found less enjoyable. But he’s a great writer, so I bought Sea, but not without tentativeness. I’m so glad I did–it’s a very interesting, well-written book. Sea‘s subject is Uzbekistan, the Soviet Union’s effect on it, and the draining of the Aral Sea, a Soviet idea that caused massive environmental damage in the area. The book is personal, touching, and well worth reading.

1) The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright
Tower is about what lead to 9/11: the thinkers who inspired Osama bin Laden, what his upbringing and life were like, and the formation of al-Qaeda. Wright accumulated a massive source of knowledge to bring this book together (interviewing around 400 people) and it shows. Tower goes deep, it’s a remarkable example of journalism

Honorable mention: Moonwalking with Einstein, American Ground.


3) Moneyball
A film so cleverly-written it makes statistics interesting. Engaging and funny, and anything that makes sports analytics more interesting to the general public is good in my book

2) Gravity
I’ve rarely used the word ‘gruelling’ more than when describing Gravity. There was a scene near the end where I thought, “Please finish, I can’t handle this”. I left the cinema exhausted. A tremendous piece of work

1) The Raid
Perhaps the greatest action film of all time. There are few films I’ve sat through with a smile on my face practically the entire time. The shootouts are hugely enjoyable, the martial arts scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen. The Raid is intense and wild. I’m trying not to use the word ‘visceral’.

Honorable mention: Skyfall


Times have changed, yo. Gaming used to be my major past-time. In 2013 I completed a total of five games. Three of them were replays of the Modern Warfare series. As I’m not counting anything I’d already experienced pre-2013, there are but two games left (#maths). However, the two remaining are so good they would probably have been top of any other year’s list:

2) Heavy Rain
A ridiculous game. A brilliant game. I’ve already text-blabbered on Heavy Rain. With the exception of the developer’s previous title, Fahrenheit, I’ve never done so many mundane, daft things in a game and enjoyed them. Heavy Rain was always fun, whether I was laughing at having to shave or do a sexy dance, or struggling to hit the right buttons to win a fight. That the game was changing depending on decisions I made or tasks I failed at blew my mind. Any mistakes in the design of Heavy Rain were caused by ambition, something no sane person should complain about, particularly in the stagnant world of game design.

1) Uncharted 3
I have less to say about Uncharted 3 except it’s brilliant. Uncharted 2 was my second favourite game of all-time, but 3 has probably overtaken it. Entertaining, fun, wildly cinematic, funny, adrenalineagoical (totally a word). It’s not perfect, and its slow start is the reason I stopped playing it for a few months. But when I came back, giving it another shot, I became as obsessed with it as I have any game in years. It restored my ailing faith in games.

Early thoughts of Batman: Arkham City

There’s a new Batman game out. This isn’t it—I’m one game behind in the series.

Also, early game spoilers.

Arkham City‘s opening is good, but not as good as in the previous game (Arkham Asylum). I don’t really understand why Bruce was arrested, but seeing a sealed-off Arkham City brought to mind Escape from New York; the angry, raucous crowd of prisoners watching Bruce enter made me think of Tango & Cash. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded of those films.

This game looks fantastic. I was wandering around looking for Mr Freeze when I answered a phone. It was Zsasz (“Oh hai, Zsasz!”). I’d accidentally started a new mission and now had to rush across Gotham’s rooftops, away from my goal. I was miffed, but, as I made my way back, I realised how visually impressive the city is. I love the dingy look, the broken elevated roads, the way the brightness of Joker’s balloons and Riddler’s signs contrast with the dark architecture. I love that the water looks stormy and the way the chopper’s spotlight falls.

I took down some armed thugs. As I knocked out the fourth, the fifth and final one just gave up. He dropped his weapon and put his hands up, waiting for me to capture him. That’s a nice touch, one fitting with the fear of Batman shown throughout the game. The game’s henchmen generally fall into two camps: those scared of Batman, and the hyper-aggressive waiting to attack him. Although many in the second group fall into the first when you start picking them off individually.

3b. The henchmen’s surrender has reasons, of course: I’ve to interrogate him. But what if the game was programmed so thugs randomly gave up? Batman gains nothing from it. What would he do? Lecture them?

Imagine playing a Call of Duty game. You’re in a shootout (as you always are). You pick off a dozen bad guys. The last one pops up with his hands in the air.  You can still kill him, of course, or let him live and continue on. But all around him lie the weapons of his fallen comrades. If you turn your back, he might pick up a dropped machine-gun and fire, bullets ripping through your spine. You’re dying in agony. Press X to plead for euthanasia…

I love that characters in the Batman universe refer to ‘Joker’ and not ‘the Joker’, suggesting an intimacy. And also that Batman is occasionally referred to ‘the Batman’, showing the awe/fear he evokes.

The humour between Bruce and Alfred is too dry. Alfie has no emotional response when Bruce reveals he’s dying. Even a stiff British upper lip only stretches so far (#destroyedmetaphor).

I do not like Penguin’s cockney accent. Sorry, Nolan North

Shamefully, I struggled to find Mr Freeze, one of the campaign’s early missions. Double-shamefully, I had to google for an answer. I’d clocked how to partially open the shutter but now how to get underneath it. Turned out, I had to slide. I can slide? Either my memory is terrible or I wasn’t told this earlier in the game.

The whole tutorial thing is a bit weird. Arkham quickly introduces you to combat’s mainstays: the strike and counter buttons. Because of that I expected the game to explain Batman’s other abilities—explosive gel and so forth. After a while of tutorial-free playing, I hit the d-pad to see that these gadgets were already waiting for me. From a menu screen I discovered that I could switch tutorials on and off. Which is a good idea on its own, but it’s odd that the game was happy to teach me a few moves, but not give an indication of the others.

Doing the Demo—Beyond: Two Souls

Beyond: Two Souls is the new game from Quantic Dream. A demo version is available to download from the PlayStation Network. And yes, Beyond: Two Souls is a terrible name.

The stars of Beyond (as I’ll now call it) are Jodie (played by Ellen Page) and some spirit thing she’s tethered to, named Aiden. The player alternates between controlling both.

Continue reading “Doing the Demo—Beyond: Two Souls”