Thursday, 13 February 2014

Continue This Blog

While it sort of feels appropriate that a blog about the process of tailing off and abandoning projects should be tailed off and abandoned rather than closed definitively I am pretty clear now that I will not be posting here anymore. As with most of the projects I've talked about here this should not be considered a bad thing, but merely just a thing which says or doesn't say certain things about the state of how we live our lives. As a project, I am just no longer interested in it. Which is not to say that I no longer find it interesting, I just have other things to be doing.

On the other hand, this project was certainly formative and a bit of a testing ground for various versions of my blogging voice. There are quite a few posts which are not very good, but there are also some I am still very pleased with. Reading through them I can see certain positions which I would no longer hold, and others which I have since refined or developed. Nevertheless I thought, as a way of ending a project that became about escaping the gravitational pull of the expectations of the past, a post which singularly fails to do that would be particularly apt. So, please find below some links to my favourite posts, the ones I still think are the most worth reading a few years down the line.

It also serves well as the first post which any future visitor might see.

Becoming a Tory What happened when I went to public school.

Marzipan 2 I-10 I put up over the course of the blog an entire unfinished manuscript for an attempt at left-wing, character-based fantasy. Simultaneously I talked about what it means to shed the once certain belief that all you need to succeed as a writer is to try, as well as an image of my future that will never come to pass. There's a lot of it, and a lot is very scrappy to read, but I think this is the best distillation of both the fiction and the reality of my life.

Marzipan 2 II-8 Meanwhile this chapter just has sex and death in it.

Jade Empire and Baldur's Gate Borking narratives in choice-based games.

Snake Agent/Wicca Cultural appropriation.

Fallout Finished things that still feel unfinished.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Dead Space

I keep not writing about Dead Space because I keep thinking to myself that I'll go back and play it, because I was really enjoying it up to the point that I got to. And then I remember that my last save has fuck all ammo or cash and is two rooms away from some double-hard wall-based monster that requires hardcore precision shooting and I get scared again and then I think about how much of a failure I am and how my life is meaningless and incomplete.

Yeah, I know. I really ought to be saving that kind of overreaction for something a bit more special, like Rainbow Islands (never got past World 2 on my own). Dead Space is just Zombies on a Spaceship; blah blah Resident Evil blah blah. The thing is, it's really good zombies in space, and the change in setting, in palette and in character design really is refreshing.

It is also one of the most seamless attempts to model a realistic space I think I've played. Whilst remaining functionally linear, the linearity in Dead Space feels justified, and is rarely enforced counter intuitively. Partly this is due to the setting - a spaceship makes a very good haunted house because death on exit is not merely implied, it is necessary and unavoidable without the need for extra narrative work or distracting exposition (one of the things that works so well in Alien); a malfunctioning spaceship is even better, as bulkheads and corridors are far more convincing constraints than the standard insurmountable waist high fence, or the need to stick to the mission rather than just piss off out of there that seems to pervade the later Resident Evil games. Partly however this is due to the cleverness and the light touch with which the game leads you around the sometimes relatively open areas, making you fix this or switch on that is made to feel necessary, rather than arbitrary. You are telling a story as you do it, not just collecting key cards.

This cleverness extends to the puzzle solving elements of the game (all survival horror games seem to have puzzle solving elements. It's apparently a thing). Again, the puzzles tend to be integrated into the environment in a much more naturalistic way, they feel like part of the world, rather than elements of a game.

That integration of game elements to world design has always been a problem as games become more realistic in design - there has to be an understandable, and recognisable challenge, but very often that seems to break one out of the world. It's in the curse of the quicktime sequence: 'press X not to die'; it's in those tedious gate puzzles, where apparently the in-game designers of some factory didn't think one switch per gate was sensible enough; it's in the blocks and crates that litter all sorts of locations and only ever slide in proscribed paths or areas.

The other big problem with realistic game design, and another place where Dead Space won out for me, has always been distance and time. Big, open world games like Fallout 3 do manage a very strong sense of realism, and they tend to be pretty good at not imposing the sort of arbitrary puzzles I just talked about onto the player, but they have the big problem of space. The space between places, while still vast, has to be necessarily contracted, or else you would notice it as being immensely boring, rather than just kind of tedious. Similarly, if you want to differentiate between day and night the cycle needs to be  sped up to something that is likely to occur within a single session of gaming.
This is something older or more abstracted games are much more capable of getting away with, with different maps at different scales, turns, or simply the fact that because it doesn't look real, you don't expect it to act real. Now, the best games tend to have these contraction effects pretty fine tuned, so that you don't notice it unless you are looking to, but still, you can understand why, when making a game about sea travel and harnessing the wind the Zelda series went all cell shaded for Wind Waker - that game is full of scale-shifts and time contraction, as well as a setting that, played real, would probably end up very dismal-looking indeed.

But yeah, all this started off with the fact that I've never actually finished Dead Space, but also haven't quite brought myself to trade it in. If only there was a game that atmospheric, that integrated and that real-feeling but that wasn't that pant-shittingly scary. Maybe I'll just go play Kinectimals or something.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Atom Twins and The Mirror

If you've been reading this blog, you'll probably already have heard of the Atom Twins. They started life as a stupid idea in a bored moment at work, but came back years later when Underfire Comics conceived of a grand plan to write a ten issue superhero graphic novel that was also a story about a comic company falling apart. In classic style, we actually managed to write the entire thing, including making up an entire superhero universe to set it all in including fake back issues and story arcs, but in the course of it have so many arguments and tantrums and so on that not only did we not even manage to start drawing it, we basically stopped functioning as a comic publishing collective.

Actually, that's not really the reason we've basically stopped making comics as a collective, it's more that Underfire has actually succeeded in it's original goal, which was to be a springboard to real paid comic work (at least for some of us). Meanwhile, the small press scene has changed an awful lot in the last ten years and the publishing model we had, while never hugely successful, is now completely obsolete and there is much more value, traction and accessibility (to both readers and creators) in stand alone titles under your own name. Basically, when we started Ka-blam! didn't exist and a pirate copy of Photoshop took days to download and was just as likely to be a virus that trashed your computer as a functional piece of software. (I know, software piracy is a Bad Thing, but the small press as it is today probably wouldn't exist without it. The comics industry expects you to be able to use Photoshop etc., but they aren't about to pay for your copy to train with - they aren't about to pay you enough to live on for your first couple of jobs either.)

Anyway, enough of that. Have a read of the Atom Twins issue from that Superhero Graphic Novel. It's got lizardmen in it, although it's really about siblings and watching your life slip out of your control. As this is a working document, the first page is spoilery though.

(picture by Iain Buchanan)

The Atom Twins

And have another issue, The Mirror - which I am vaguely considering attempting to paint myself, but who knows if I'll ever manage to do that. This one is hugely over-ambitious, full of backwards narrative, tarot imagery and an attempt at a meta-narrative about the second generation immigrant experience (i.e. mine). God help me.

The Mirror

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Donkey Kong 64

The Nintendo 64 was a strange and essentially bungled console. It should have been era-defining in the way that the NES and the SNES were, but corporate arrogance and stupidity managed to get in the way. Having said that it was by no means a flop, but I suspect part of the problem was that more people played on them than owned them. Of the era defining games on the N64, and it had its fair share, a large number were mainly about the 4-player multiplayer; Goldeneye, Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers being the most legendary. You only needed to have one friend who owned the console - and it helped that, due to the pricing differentials, the kid whose parents brought them an N64 probably also had the best telly and the biggest living room.

But single player is how you get a console into everyone's home, and single player is where they messed up. Oh yeah, and by deliberately creating a base machine that  was below maximum spec, then short-shipping the shonky upgrade pack and bundling it with an even shonkier game intended to display its power. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is quite simply one of the most innovative mainstream games I've played. The fact that I had to buy Donkey Kong 64 in order to play it is a tragedy.

Rare were gaming legends; behind Battletoads, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Killer Instinct and the Donkey Kong Country games, there they were. Yet currently when you see them turn up in the press its in a vain attempt to tell you that playing darts with Kinect is the future of gaming. Now, I know that their current position as a Microsoft toy is actually to do with corporate poilitics and manouvering, but I like to think that it owes something to what they did to Donkey Kong 64.

The Donkey Kong Country games were near perfect 2D platformers, and Mario 64 had already demonstrated that a 3D platformer was not only possible, but could be really good. So there is literally no excuse for DK64. It looked bad, it played bad and they killed Wrinkly Kong, then brought her back as a ghost. What? Why? That was completely uneccesary and creepy and weird and mean.

I think I got about halfway through before I just couldn't be bothered to go any further. And just so that you know, there is no metaphor in there.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Marzipan 2 II-9

And so it ends, not with a bang but with a whimper. The manuscript for this story does actually go almost all the way to the end - I left out the final movement because I couldn't quite work out how to do it and I thought that going back and reviewing the story as I did the typing and the rewrite might fix it more clearly in my head. However, there were too many points earlier in the story that I had had the same idea about - that I could do them properly in the re-write - and so I ended up just stuttering to a halt. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Marzipan 2 II-8

I really liked this chapter. its all about death and sex and self hatred and being unable to relate to your family. Basically things quite close to my heart.

Big Bad Wolf

The afternoon seemed endless. It had been formed of empty, searingly blue skies and featureless landscapes that seemed to feed into themselves, so that Nina could not be sure that she hadn’t walked in a giant circle, watched only by a static sun and the distant hovering hawks.
Nina felt the sun as a weight, bearing down on the heavy clothing that she wore. She refused to expose herself any further though, and just drank steady sips of water as she tramped the hours underfoot. Her reasoning was this – the air itself felt somehow chilled, so that if the sun were to pass behind a cloud then there would be nothing left but cold. The oppressing heat was a false jollity, one that would be crushed by ice she felt sure. It was a very peculiar feeling that, in sixteen years of adventures, of never stopping, she had felt only once before - or so the saying goes.
Except that she hadn’t, because it was the feeling that always came from inside, that - no matter where she was - swarmed up and invaded her muscles with heavy self awareness, with twitching incongruity. It was the memories that came first, unwanted and unrelated they brought the feeling with them and they crowded out her peripheral vision so that her eyes tunnelled forward and she had to be careful where she stepped. So that everything slowed down and speeded up at once and you had to stop to think about everything that you did from moment to moment. Because even when you were curled up against the shielding warmth of a frost giant in a bed of furs it’ll still course through you and you’ll have nothing to stop it.
She misses that frost giant, misses the frozen reaches in the far south where she had found him, although she realises that the affection is probably born as much from location as it was from true happiness. She was not happy there, she knows, because she had gone as far as she possibly could go from where she started but she was still herself. She doesn’t like to say his name, to even think it, because it upsets her – because she knows that she will never do better. Because, as far as she travelled, as protected as she could be, the memories crowded in, the feeling fuzzed through her nerves and she knew that she couldn’t stop, because stopping meant death, one way or another, by her own hand or by the weight of existence, and so she had had to leave.
Too young, she thinks, but Nina is not sure that those thoughts are Nina’s, are hers. She knew exactly what she was doing, which is the worst of the problems because it gives her no excuse. Others she could forgive, at that age, but she was aware – she knew that she was. And what s the worst thing that she could have done? Exactly what she did. Every time.
It comes up in her vision, swimming into hazy focus that darts from a solid gaze and remains present even in the cleansing glare of the sun. Closing her eyes is no proof. Fenris is there, all flesh and hands and touches that are almost still good to feel. Watching where she should have stepped in, where she should have stopped. She feels the crunch of bones that are not hers. She feels the touch of hands that are not hers. She feels the shapes her mouth made. She feels the stupidity of separate events intertwined irrevocably in her mind and she knows that she was wrong. Every time.
She should not have picked the fights that she picked. She should not have said the things that she said. She should not have let the fights that she didn’t pick go unpicked. She should not have let her sister climb trees. She should not have done with Fenris what she did with him. Despite everything.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Marzipan 2: II-7

I had great plans for this, but as usual they went nowhere. Sel remonstrations are as present in the original typescript. The Well of poison was the name of the ship that they were going to sail up from the depths.

The Well of Poison

The five sailors looked far worse than the captain did, but that was because their deaths had been more violent. They displayed limbs that had been chewed up and cracked, and crushed ribs under loose-hanging strips of flesh. Some had stomachs that had been eaten out, others trailed gore like pendants of favour, and one even had had his skull crushed by gigantic jaws so that he saw with only a single eye.
The captain took them across the seabed, countless leagues of shifting scenery filled with life. Shoals pulsed and startled when they drew near, larger fish took an interest in them in great passing sweeps, but nothing dwelled, for they were protected; a troop of sacred lepers, untouchable out of fear and respect. At times they even thought that they could make out a great bulk in the gloom ahead or to the side of them, but it was always gone as soon as they were aware of it, leaving only a faint pressure shadow in the vast currents that surrounded them.
description of mussel shore (why can’t I fucking do this already?)

The pain was intense, even to the dead. The salt tore at their bloodless flesh and bathed them with agony until there was nothing left of them that wasn’t bone or metal. They continued, though, because they had to. The ship must sail again, though it was an ill-named craft who’s previous had been distinguished by notoriety.

Stuff about the background of the ship?