Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Standing still

Oops, missed yesterday.

One of the most intriguing things about this season of Mad Men is how little Don Draper has changed - or his behaviour, at least. When the show started he was womanizing, boozing, smoking and immaculately tailored - and that's all still true. He still acts like he did six years ago, and what's more he's still getting away with it.

But what makes it interesting is how different he seems. The world around him has changed so much, and maybe we've just been watching him for so long and have seen so many other characters move on and move up and grow and change that he's just standing still. He's gone from being the epitome of cool for all his flaws (and awesome suits) to being an almost tragic figure, trapped by his vices and not even sure how much he wants to give them up.

He knows he should, but he can't bring himself to actually change.

I hope he does. As the seasons have worn on and we've found out more about Don, and as he's started to notice the cycle himself, he makes efforts to varying degrees to give up his bad habits. But he's failed every time, usually right as he's about to get a firm grip on actual happiness and stability.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Flute of Remembrance

The third episode of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet didn't inspire a lot of confidence, resorting to a threat-of-the-week villain and predictable battle. The opening couple of episodes had a lot of worldbuilding and deliberate pacing, which the fourth installment has thankfully returned to. I don't have a problem, as such, with episodic action, but it felt like it had made promises at the start and then wasn't going to deliver on them.

I wasn't sure what the newest episode was going to do, since the third already kind of dealt with the immediate aftermath of the pirate attack. But the longer-term repercussions are still unaddressed - Ledo's been given an invoice for the damage he caused when he first arrived on the fleet, but he's been given a lot of freedom to move around the fleet and has been given work to do. I'd like to see more about how the regular people of the fleet feel about Ledo and his mecha - or even just what they've heard.

But instead he's hanging out with his robot and keeping mostly to himself - which kind of begs the question of where he's picked up so much Japanese1. He does start to make more friends, or at least acquaintances, in this episode though - finally meeting Amy's ill little brother Bevel and the fleet's doctor (they only have one?) in an attempt to learn how he might get back to the Galactic Alliance's main force. He also kind-of meets a couple of other messengers who work with Amy, but they've still not even been officially introduced to the audience.

It was actually the meeting (and the lead-in) with Bebel that restored my confidence in the show after last week's episode. I'd been worried that despite Ledo's distance from the Gargantia's people he was getting too used to the fleet without any real effort on anybody's part, but when Amy's taking him to meet her brother Ledo asks why they haven't "culled" Bevel, because he's too weak to be useful.

Ledo and Bevel have a conversation about what makes a person useful to a society (it's neutered a little by the fact that neither of them ever gets angry at the assumptions the other is making), as well as what makes a society worthwhile - Bevel's position is that living itself is motivation for humans to work together, but Ledo insists that without the Hideauze, mankind has no purpose. Which puts him wonderfully on the back foot when Bevel asks what he'll do once mankind defeats the aliens.

That was a question I'd never considered myself, and I can't recall a "militarized humanity vs extra-terrestrial threat" series that's ever bothered to ask that question. What did people do after the Buster Machine 3 was detonated at the end of Gunbuster? Apart from spelling out words in Australia's power grid.

So I'm reassured and looking forward to the rest of the show - watching Ledo integrate himself into the fleet and hopefully more of how they react to the spaceman and his high-tech flying robot. But more than that, I'm hoping that he eventually gets back to the Galactic Alliance after being changed by his experiences on the seas.

1It's not "officially" Japanese that they speak, of course; whether it's Ledo or the fleet, their native language is Japanese and the others are speaking gibberish. The fleet's language has been referred to in the show as "words" or "Earth language", but the people are a mix of different nationalities so it's unclear what language they'd actually be speaking - assuming a modern human could even identify it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Iron Man 3

We saw Iron Man 3 last night; it was really quite good. Not sure there's much else to say about it - there's not a whole lot of subtext or deep character stuff to go into. The CGI was remarkably low-key, considering the big explosive effects finale; there was only one shot, that I can remember anyway, that didn't look up to scratch.

It was also, thankfully, not as indulgent as I was expecting for a third-in-the-franchise superhero film. They tend to get a bit bloated and drag in more villains than the plot can comfortably support, but it seems Iron Man got that out of its system with its second outing.

I've been thinking about what Iron Man 2's flaw was, for me; I've still only seen it once and might re-evaluate it in the event I ever give it a second viewing, but I remember it feeling like a movie version of a TV show. It's got all the big-budget spectacle of a blockbuster, but it's trying not to upset the cart with any story or character beats because they want to save that for the next one. As a result, it's treading water to an extent - there's lots of splashing, but it doesn't go anywhere.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Oculus Rift

One of the guys at YoYo got his Oculus Rift today, and as we thankfully work in an industry that's not entirely serious he spent most of the morning setting it up and letting people try out the Tuscany demo.

I tried it twice, and both times it gave me severe motion sickness.

I'm not entirely certain what the problem was, but I'm pretty sure it's one of a few prime suspects:

  1. the 3d effect;
  2. the rapid speed of movement in the environment;
  3. the sensitivity of the head tracking was too low;
  4. the lack of a frame of reference for your "body"; or
  5. the relatively low resolution or lack of focus in the lenses

The first one I tried to mitigate by playing with one eye closed, but that didn't seem to help much. I was already feeling pretty poor at that point though, so it might have been too little too late. The player's movement in the environment is severely disorienting because you're sitting still - only your head movement is being translated into the game. You're also skating around like Gordon Freeman in the original Half Life, slightly too fast compared to a natural walking speed. This also causes some tearing in the display, which doesn't help.

My head movements weren't all being translated accurately either; looking up and down (or tilting my head from side to side) seemed to be 1:1, but turning was slightly slower than my actual movement. This also ties into the lack of a frame of reference - while turning your head a little bit wouldn't change the direction of movement (much like you can walk in a line but look to the side in real life), turning too much would rotate your entire character. So you'd be travelling in one direction, then glance to the side and suddenly be travelling what felt diagonally.

The movement trouble was almost entirely eliminated in Team Fortress 2, which not only had entirely separate body and head rotation but also let you aim separately from where you're looking and allows you to see your character's body when you look down, providing a point of reference for where you're travelling if it's not the same direction as you're looking. The character's weapon also helps ground your point of view more than the Tuscany demo's disembodied viewpoint.

But while the seasickness wasn't as obvious while playing, the queasiness did kick in a few minutes after I stopped, and hasn't really gone away even now - hours after taking the headset off. All of which only makes me gladder that nobody had Mirror's Edge installed at the time.

The final problem is the low-resolution panel, which leaves your field of vision slightly blurred - not helped by the fixed-focus lenses, so you can't adjust it on the fly. Both of these might be solved in the final production model, but I'm not sure they're going to help with my nausea.

It's a promising piece of kit, although I'm not sure it's worth the current $300 price tag, and there were some truly fascinating moments while using it; I was standing up at one point while using the Tuscany demo, and turned around to talk to someone (in the real world) who was having a conversation just over my shoulder. Discovering that they weren't there was weird.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Far Cry 3, additional

So after last night's entry, observing my disinterest in Far Cry 3, I ended up spending a couple of hours tonight playing it. I don't have any further insights sadly; it was more exploration and sidequests rather than following the story (although I did complete a couple of main missions). The highlight of the evening was, when attempting to sneak into an enemy outpost, I was kicked to death by a cassowary.

I hadn't remembered how unbalanced the game is, though. I didn't think I'd managed to get that many upgrades, but I don't seem to be challenged much by the enemies. Maybe if I was using a more out-and-out aggressive playing style it would be different, but so far I've been stealthy as much as possible and have silencers on all my guns.

Actually, my burgeoning arsenal is another element that's tipping things unfairly in my favour. Every fast travel location has a vending machine where I can buy, swap and upgrade weapons (apparently on the honour system - why can't I blow the thing open and steal everything?); refilling ammo is fair enough, but I don't think it would have broken the game, considering how easy it is to nip back to a village, to force the player to purchase the weapons themselves from an actual human being.

Still, it's a lot of fun while it's happening. Climbing a mountain on your way to a radio tower, but finding an irresistible hang glider and getting distracted by treasure icons isn't a bad way to kill a couple of hours. It's not much good for prolonged play, though.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Far Cry 3

The thing I like most about good sandbox games - their necessarily incidental storyline - is also the biggest problem when it comes to their staying power. I'll happily spend hours screwing around, setting and chasing my own objectives, probably for longer than I'd play if the game was constantly telling me exactly what to do.

But that lack of a strong narrative prevents me from feeling like I need to go back to Far Cry 3. While I'm in the game, I'll always have time for one more hunting mission or radio tower or stronghold, but once I turn it off I don't have any compulsion to start it up again.

But I've often felt that a strong story comes at the cost of player freedom and vice versa; there's no way to consistently tell an emotionally rewarding story, or even to have an interesting player character, when every moment can be spent in a thousand different ways. Jason's supposed to be trying to rescue his friends and escape from this island, but as a player I haven't been given a good reason to care about them. He's supposed to be new to the combat, to hunting, maybe even to driving - but I've been trained to do all of these things by ten years or more of gaming experiences.

What I want, as a player, from Far Cry 3 is a long way from what the character Jason is supposed to want, at least at the early stage of the story I'm at. I've read enough interviews and deconstructions to know that, eventually, the allure of these extracurricular activities becomes a character point for him - violence as addiction - but the player's already there, looking forward to the next shootout, searching for the next objective, waiting for the next achievement.

Another problem with sandboxes is that, once you've unlocked one supply point, hunted a few animals and had a go on each vehicle type, you've basically seen everything. Sure, some of the later animals might take a few more bullets and the supply points on the southern island will probably require a slightly different strategy, but I've done those things already. Everything else from here out is a repeat of something I've already experienced.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I had a few different ideas of stuff to write throughout the evening, but I have a memory like a sieve (minus the mesh that occasionally catches bits) so here's some rambling instead.

Started rewatching Madoka properly, and I still have problems with how up-front its premise is - although that's possibly because I knew the conceit even the first time through the series. Maybe having the Faust association already in my mind caused me to pick up a lot more of the sinister and creepy angle rather than the surreal, fantasy aspect. Although the oppressive techno score didn't help, either.

I'm always surprised how quick a show will move the second time around, though - I didn't think [SPOILER] happened as early as the third episode, but then it's only got 12 half-hours to get through everything. It's also amazing how different the lead-in to [SPOILER] is when you know it's coming; the preceding scenes take on an entirely different meaning with that added foresight.

I also started blasting through Okami HD in an attempt to get that one trophy I missed the first time through. I'd previously restarted a New Game Plus playthrough but managed to crash the game, so had to more or less re-restart it tonight; I've reached the Agata Forest dungeon in less than 45 minutes, compared to the first time which probably took me a couple of hours or more. And possibly longer again on the PS2 version.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dragons and ketchup

The takeaway lesson from this week's episode of Game of Thrones? Daenerys is a stone-cold badass. My only real complaint is that Arya Stark hasn't had a chance, yet, to kick ass properly. She's been a lot of talk and is showing a lot of guts, but the couple of times she's been given an opportunity to act it hasn't really gone her way.

And Mad Men continues to be complicated and awesome and beautifully-shot and impeccably acted and really honestly just the best show on TV. Its episodic format is still a bit of an advantage next to GoT's serialized storyline, with contained arcs and subplots every week rather than a couple of scenes per character in service to a greater, but as-yet-incomplete narrative.

The two shows have complimentary themes, though - a lot of this season of Game of Thrones seems to be setting up strong women, and how they play the political game just as well, although differently, than the men do. And in a lot of cases, the men don't even seem to realise they're being played. Mad Men on the other hand, at least when it comes to Don Draper, is about the declining importance of men's roles in the late 60s. As Megan's getting more successful in her acting career, it's undermining what Don sees as his position. She doesn't need him the same way he wants - or needs - her to and that's a threat that he reacts to in the usual Draper way: alcohol and affairs.

I'm not able to reliably speculate on what's going to happen in either show more than five minutes into the current episode so I don't know if there are larger points to make in each series, but Mad Men's basis in (a version of) reality certainly suggests it's going to see social changes impact the characters and their relationships. Game of Thrones doesn't have that same external pressure, but it's reassuring to see a show which started off with some questionable female characterization turning into a show where women increasingly hold all the power.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

That difficult third episode

I've just watched the latest episodes of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and Attack on Titan, and have some serious reservations about both. I guess it's to be expected, after such strong opening episodes, that something was going to give sooner or later, but they've both dropped the ball in different ways.

Gargantia slipped up in its pacing; while the first two episodes were very deliberately paced, the pirates' revenge attack this episode seemed to come a bit too quickly - they still haven't introduced all of the characters from the OP animation, but are running off on what feels like a filler episode. I'd hoped they'd have the guts to go a while without a huge action sequence, but apparently not.

What's more disappointing about it, though, was the costume design (or lack thereof) for the newly-introduced Pirate Empress (whose name I already forget). She, along with her two scantily-clad slave/sidekick ladies, doesn't fit in particularly well with the other pirates. Her overt sexuality is a predictable crutch instead of an interesting character, as is the hint at a mysterious back story with the Gargantia fleet's commander.

Attack on Titan's misstep is just that it was boring. After the horrific scenes in the first two episodes, we're suddenly left with some training montages and new characters (I started making a mental dead pool as they were being introduced). I know this seems like a double-standard immediately after complaining that Gargantia didn't take a breather, but it's not the lack of action that's the problem - it's the lack of Titans.

There were some interesting plot threads though, and a few of the characters will be interesting once they get pulled into a major arc (assuming they have more substance than "girl who likes food"1, anyway).

1 Pretty sure there was an Evangelion reference when she was eating, at one point.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston, the ARG

I spent a significant amount of yesterday listening to a live internet stream of the Boston Police Department's radio chatter. I'm not even really sure why; while I was following a couple of Reddit threads as well, I wasn't participating in any kind of information gathering, and I wasn't particularly interested in the rampant and frequently misguided speculation about the location, motives and identity of Suspect 2, aka "white hat".

I tuned out long before he was finally located and arrested, too; I'm astonished but relived the police managed to take him alive - both because I expected him to commit suicide when capture became inevitable, and because I didn't think any American police department has the kind of self control to restrain their retribution when tracking a suspect in the shooting death of a police officer.

In the aftermath, the contribution of Reddit, Anonymous and 4chan in providing information and data mining, both to the police and to the mainstream media (as well as fact-hungry rubberneckers like myself), is being pretty well looked at from every angle; the biggest misstep made by the internet's amateur detectives was falsely identifying Suspect 2 - he was later named by police as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but for a few hours he was accepted by the online participants to be Sunil Tripathi.

Which wouldn't have been so serious, except that Mr. Tripathi has been missing since March 16th and this additional attention probably didn't ease his family's suffering. It probably wasn't the kind of media attention they wanted for their missing son.

I think the problem is that, when you're watching this stuff unfold on TV or on your computer, even if you're from or in the town, city, state or country affected, you're separated and distanced from the reality and gravity of the situation. The way people were approaching the identity and location of the bomber, as if it was just a puzzle to be solved, reminded me a lot of the way you see communities tackle ARGs.

If, in the future, these online communities have the opportunity, willingness and drive to assist in this kind of investigation - even if it's purely for ARG-style puzzle solving - I hope they learn lessons from the aftermath of Boston. By all means help identify suspects, providing possible names if you can, crowdsource footage and photos and testimony from eyewitnesses.

But maybe leave the theorizing and speculation to the professionals. It's all too easy for a rumour on a Reddit thread or on Twitter to be picked up by a hungry CNN or Fox researcher - and once it's on the air, getting it off again is going to take a lot longer.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I didn't post anything yesterday because I was in such a bad mood that I couldn't think straight. Anything I had written would have been edited to death and then scrapped anyway, so I doubt anybody missed much. Then I couldn't get to sleep and ended up sitting on the internet for over an hour, starting around 1am, and ended up re-reading issues 7-12 of Saga again. I don't know what time I eventually managed to get to sleep, but it wasn't long enough before I had to get up again.

I'm honestly not in much of a better mood today, so this is all you're getting. Hopefully tomorrow will be better, but given the meeting I've just been informed I'll be attending, the forecast does not seem good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Attack on Titan

I'd been hearing rumblings of this show's greatness for a few weeks, but it only popped up on Crunchyroll a couple of days ago. The promotional video I did see hadn't really sold me on the concept; there's something about the art style and character designs that are really putting me off (although I like the chunky outlines). Also, the giant skinless naked guy seemed a step too far.

Bottle synopsis: a hundred or so years ago, the Titans - humanoid giants varying in height between 10 of 20 metres - appeared and started eating humans, who retreated inside three concentric circular 50m walls which proved impervious to the Titans (you can see where this is going, I'm sure). Just as humanity was getting complacent, a new Titan showed up and started wrecking up the place, providing the other giants with a route into the humans' stronghold.

I'm now two episodes in and fairly intrigued. I'd fall quite short of declaring it the best anime of the season just yet - as a lot of commenters seem to be doing - but even though there are a lot of elements I don't like I've got to give the production staff credit for not pulling their punches. The first episode builds up to, and ends with, the death of main character Eren's mother. I kept waiting for them to cut away, and they did, and then they cut back and you see her get bitten in half.

It's pretty horrific in a number of other places, and uncomfortably so; I found myself wincing regularly as people got splattered by debris, or were just devoured by the Titans - whose rictus grins are their most disturbing feature in a long list of disturbing features. The pacing of the episode before the attack is definitely on the sluggish side, with a lot of slow panning to pad out scenes that ultimately feel kind of pointless. Hopefully the recon corps will make further appearances, as their setup would be a total waste of time otherwise and they're probably more interesting than many of the other factions.

I'm not sure I'd ever be able to recommend this show unless I ever meet someone who's looking for more in the "naked giant cannibal" genre. It's uneven and ugly in places, but its dedication to horrifying and unnerving the audience has earned it a few points in my book.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A random thought about Madoka

I've been meaning to rewatch Puella Magi Madoka Magica more or less since the instant I first finished the series. Haven't yet found the time - I've only got it on Blu-ray, and need to take up the living room to watch it - but something about it occurred to me this morning, which disappointed me the first time through even though I wasn't really sure what it was.

Basically, it's not enough like Evangelion. Bear with me.

To begin with, Eva is so full of clichés and homages and Giant Robot tropes that the audience is left with a particular expectation. That initial setup is mostly delivered for the first few episodes, with the darker psychology and conspiracy stuff creeping in around the edges1.

By contrast, the very first scene in Madoka is thumping Yuki Kajiura techno and dark imagery and it's immediately obvious that there's more going on than the main character realises. It doesn't set up any false expectation; having an episode or two of sugar and laughs building up to the sudden and traumatic [spoiler goes here] would have given the whole show a twist that it's sorely lacking.

Then there's the closing episodes where the reasons for Kyubei recruiting Magical Girls are a bit predictable and over-explained, and the ending's kind of... well, bad. Hopefully the movies will wrap things up more completely, but I'm not holding out much hope.

1 The best episode of Evangelion, for my money, is Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!; I've always been disappointed that Shinji and Asuka's relationship never seemed to evolve despite the episode finishing with them as equals. But then, Anno's overarching story might not have worked (your mileage may vary whether you think it did or not).

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Only two episodes of Production I.G.'s new show, the awkwardly-named Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, have aired so far, and I'm quite excited about it. It's a mecha show and I'm always cautious with the genre as it can get a bit dull and predictable, even with all the explosions, but there's a lot of promising threads being set up that I'm hoping pay off.

It starts off on a strong foot - a massive space battle with mecha, ships and an insectoid alien enemy all with a very strong Gunbuster flavour. It sets up a huge interstellar war with a history and huge stakes - and then the lead character drops through a wormhole, landing on a planet long since assumed dead.

It's been a pretty slow burner despite that early bait-and-switch; even at the end of the second episode it's still very much in character setup mode, introducing the characters to both the audience and each other - they still can't understand each others' language1. That second episode ends with the first real action scene (the space battle at the start of the pilot is kind of boring, if I'm honest), but it left a much stronger impression on me than I was expecting.

I'm hoping the characters in the show take a while to react to what's happened; it'd be a shame if, after taking its time moving the pieces into position for this chain of events, they get bored and skip past the aftermath of what amounts to a wholesale slaughter.

1 The way this is handled is great; when they're talking to someone who speaks the same language, they just use Japanese; when they're talking to someone who speaks a different language, it's a garbled mess (possibly the same garbled mess). It's a great, if simple, obstacle to overcome that complicates the early interactions; they can't just explain their positions and rush on with the story.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


We've been married a year today. Not much else to say, really; it's been a pretty good year. Hard to believe it's actually been 12 months already, but I think that's because the honeymoon didn't end until the 10th of May, so everything between now and then counts, in my head, as part of the wedding.

Didn't do anything big for the event; tight budgets and other obligations limited our options somewhat, but we did get to Ichiban in Glasgow for dinner tonight, which was great - haven't been there in aages.

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's not you, Amaterasu, it's me

I'm just about to hit the 30-hour mark in Okami, and I'm starting to think I've had enough.

Maybe it's the inordinate amount of time I spent tonight doing side stuff, looping back and forwards between areas to pick up items and treasures, but even when I went to progress the story it felt like a slog. I think it's possibly a mistake to have put the ice/show section this late in the game; after the green fields of Shinshu, Ryoshima's blue seas and the red architecture of Seian, the howling winds and grey expanse of Kamui is just... dull.

Then there's more lengthy exposition, more Issun, more dumb battles against friendly NPC just to pad out a game that's already in danger of outstaying its welcome. If the end was in sight it wouldn't be so bad, but this is now essentially the third arc and each of the previous two felt like they could have been the end of the game.

And there's so much more to come - I can remember three more distinct sections of the game (of varying lengths), and I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some others.

I should be glad I have a title this big to sink my teeth into; when I decided I wouldn't be buying any games this year (except The Last of Us), I would have been relieved to see something as filling as Okami on the schedule. Now, I'm kind of wishing I had more, shorter games.

Maybe it's the way I'm playing it; spending two or more solid hours a night with it, I'm just over-exposed. I started Far Cry 3 last night and have The Cave downloaded from PS+, and there are other games I'd like to replay (I've had an itch to give Catherine another playthrough). Focusing on one game at a time, rather than taking a more buffet approach, could be more draining than I'd have thought.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Talent and ambition versus failure

I was reading an article earlier today which collected a number of choice quotes from Roger Ebert's most negative reviews - the films he really hated, and got really creative expressing that hatred. One quote in particular stood out to me, from his review of the Robin Williams/Ed Norton/Jon Stewart "comedy" Death to Smoochy:

Only enormously talented people could have made "Death to Smoochy." Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience. To make a film this awful, you have to have enormous ambition and confidence, and dream big dreams.

The film industry is full of well-intentioned failures made by talented people. Some of them are successful, some are not, but even in this scathing takedown of Death to Smoochy Ebert has to admit the talent and ambition of the people behind it, even if the end result is a total disaster.

Which got me thinking: are there any videogames that could be described similarly, or are the huge teams and vague ownership of ideas constructed in such a way that intent and even talent is difficult to identify if a game is bad?

And not even "so bad it's good", where the enjoyment comes from a place not deliberately targeted by the development team. Just a game that fails on every level but still has a spark of ambition in it. Where you can see the talent struggling to make a connection.

This probably comes down, in a lot of cases, to the lack of singular vision on a project compared to the director's final authority on a film. There are so few auteur videogame directors, possibly because the disciplines required to direct and design a game are so broad that they can't be as hands-on with every aspect as a film's director.

Directing a two-hour feature is one thing; directing an eight, twelve or forty-hour game is another entirely, and it's going to be exponentially difficult to make sure you've got your eye on everything.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Still playing through Okami, although didn't get much done tonight. Only have one brush technique left to find, but I have a feeling there's a certain point in the game, after which I won't be able to come back - before progressing much farther, I'll have to go back to pick up any collectibles I've missed.

Most of the evening was spent in a Google Hangout with some Society fellows discussing Alpha Protocol. It's only the second time I've used Hangout and the first time I've used its "record" functionality. I had been worried that we'd end up broadcasting live on YouTube; as it turns out I think we were, but nobody tuned in which is fine by me.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Mad Men

The one thing that last night's season premiere of Mad Men has made me realise is how terribly-written everything else on TV is.

Not only is every character interesting and witty and realistic, they're all different characters - so many shows seem to have two or three archetypes in different outfits, and rarely delve into what makes them the way they are. Mad Men is all about personal histories, how they've shaped characters and what they're doing to embrace or reject the journey they've been through.

A huge amount of credit also has to go to the directors and actors, who can string together four slow shots of John Hamm looking at a cigarette lighter and make it an important character moment.

The episode seemed to be edited really oddly, though - I'm not sure if it's just the file we watched (there seemed to be some weirdness with the download), but some of the cuts between scenes were very disorienting. One jump in particular went from an apartment building doorman having a heart attack straight to a conversation after he's back at work, apparently weeks later, with no indication of what happened in the meantime.

It's maybe because of the two-hour running time, but it actually felt like this episode was doing more than setup - more than can be said for the first two episodes of Game of Thrones so far, which still seem to be putting pieces on the board rather than doing anything interesting with them. Maybe it's because the focus in Mad Men is on the characters' inner conflict and turmoil rather than GoT's broader scope that it's able to just tell a story - which is also helped by its episodic format, while Game of Thrones is a serialized, ten-hour movie.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Shut up, Issun

There's one thing that's really making me struggle with Okami, and it's not an essential part of the game. It could easily be removed with very few changes needed to the rest, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who'd argue for keeping this... "feature" in.

But in my opinion, Issun's got to go.

There's no shortage of powerful women in Okami; they're almost all business owners, powerful priestesses (in a story where that position gives them actual magic powers), heads of government - both local and national - and, in the case of the player character, an actual Goddess with (eventually) command over life, the elements and even time.

So I cannot fathom why Issun is so overtly and aggressively sexist. One character, a priestess and advisor to the Queen of Nippon, is exclusively referred to as "Busty Babe". Nearly every line of dialogue Issun speaks to her makes some reference to her "melons" (his word). And this comes after the previous 12 hours of Issun letching over wood sprites, saké brewers and a girl found locked in a prison cell.

There's probably some argument to be made that his outspoken sexuality is compensating for size (he's less than two centimeters tall, and visible only in silhouette for the majority of the game), but that seems like a desperate joke to try and excuse an attitude that's inexcusable.

It's genuinely making it difficult to play the game. Since Amaterasu doesn't speak - she's a wolf, after all - Issun is largely left to carry out conversations for both of them, so there are very few dialogue scenes where his… perspective isn't front and centre. And most of this takes place in plot scenes too, which you can't skip or even speed up.

If a game is going to speak for me, I'd prefer it not to take such an embarrassingly hostile tone towards the majority of its own characters.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Eighth Purification

I'm not sure how much of a spoiler it is to say that you beat the final boss in a game. It was never something I'd really given much thought before reading this piece by Dan Whitehead, but on reflection it seems kind of obvious.

What makes this less clear, in Okami's case, is that you beat Orochi - up until that point the Source of All Evil - about a third of the way through.

I remember being surprised, the first time I played the game, that there was more to do after beating him. I can only assume it took me longer to reach this point on that playthrough than it did this time around - my clock is currently sitting at about 12 hours. And I've been doing a lot more exploring and treasure-hunting than I remember bothering with before.

I'm hoping that this speedier run-through is going to hold up, as it will hopefully take away some of the feeling of slog in the back end. I've been trying to remember the order in which things happen, and in a couple of places I'm unsure if I'm thinking of Okami or Dragon Quest VIII, which I played around the same time on PS2 (but never got around to finishing).

Friday, April 05, 2013

Tired, relieved

This has been a long day. I always underestimate how totally draining it can be just waiting around for stuff to happen.

Everything seemed to work out as well as possible though, so it's all been worth it. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, just sitting playing Okami. Today was a lot of driving and waiting and although I can't think of a better use of my time on this particular day I'd happily never have to do it again.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Spirit Extermination

I'd been tempted to pick up Okami HD on the PSN for a while now, but three things stopped me, to varying degrees.

  1. I was determined to stick with this crazy "no games" rule for as much of the year as I could;
  2. I'm hesitant to put my card details into the PSN following that massive hack a while back; and
  3. I had a strong suspicion it was going to appear on PlayStation Plus sooner or later.

My cheapness has paid off: it's one of this month's Instant Game Collection titles.

I first played - and completed - Okami on PS2. I've tried to restart it a few times since, both on the PS2 (and PS3, via emulation) and on the Wii port, but I never managed to get far.

This evening, I collected five of the brush techniques and am about to leave the first overworld area, in just under three hours.

I'd forgotten how quickly you accumulate new techniques early on - it seems to be throwing new stuff at you all the time, and I've not even hit the first proper boss yet.

I know, however, that the latter stages of the game are a total slog, with repeated bosses and a couple of weird story turns, and the breakneck pace of the opening areas probably doesn't help that sense. It was often described, on its release, as the best Zelda game in years, but Okami's not content to introduce you to new skills one dungeon at a time early on, but ends up running out of stuff to teach you.

The HD port - by Hexa Drive, the guys behind the equally excellent Rez HD - is phenomenal. It looks as gorgeous as I remember the PS2 original seemed when it first came out. The controls seem identical to me (I don't have a Move controller), and the music's perfect for the visuals.

I still almost-hate the voice sound effects and the inability to skip cutscenes is frustrating in places, but I'm sure as I get further into the story and start encountering bits for only the second time - rather than the third or fourth - I'll be less desperate to get past a piece of exposition.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

You're going to need a bigger boat

Stumbled across Jaws on SyFy tonight - certainly one of the higher-quality films they've got in their roster. I was surprised, when I saw it on the EPG, that it was actually the original; I was expecting it to be some high-numbered, low-quality sequel. They still managed to break up a lot of the tension with ad breaks, although it was far from an ITV hatchet job.

The last time I saw Jaws was at the cinema; the Odeon in Dundee was showing it a few months ago and I'd never actually seen it the whole way through before then. The first shark attack is ridiculously dragged-out - in fact they're all a bit melodramatic - but it's a phenomenal film. Even if it doesn't get really special until Brody, Hooper and Quint are out on the Orca.

If it wasn't for Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss would steal the whole show; Hooper's squeamish but determined approach to autopsies (both human and shark) is perfect, and would be hilarious if it wasn't so totally serious. I always feel like I'm being a little bit harsh on Roy Scheider in this; he's playing a more or less ordinary guy, and aside from the fear of water he doesn't have the eccentricities that make Hooper and Quint so interesting to watch.

The standout scene for me, though, hangs entirely on Shaw. Quint's story about his shipwrecked crew is mesmerising. Told so simply and straightforwardly, almost daring Brody and Hooper to feel sorry for him.

It's something of a pity that the finale is so literally explosive; there's relatively little action for most of the running time, so the final shark attack on the Orca is a bit out of place. The majority of the film hides the shark and focuses on the people, so when the monster finally does appear properly the film loses a little bit of what makes it really fun to watch.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I can't take criticism

When I ran aNIme1, it was small enough that I never really had much interaction with readers. Honestly, I'm not all that sure I had any regular readers outside the people I knew in real life. It was a small site that I spent next to no time promoting, aimed at a small demographic, and it undoubtedly had a small readership.

Part of the reason I started this blog-a-day effort is because I had an idea for a website that I'd like to set up and run, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to write regularly enough to justify the server and domain costs. I wanted to see if I could keep up a writing schedule, and maybe get better at it, before jumping into that effort again. Back in the aNIme days I had a couple of people who helped with the occasional review, but I wrote and reviewed 95% of the content. I just don't have the time for that anymore, so I was expecting to have to get proper contributors; I couldn't very well expect a lot of them if I didn't have experience and a track record of writing to schedule.

Some online interactions I've had this year, though, have caused me to rethink the whole thing. It's really my own fault; I take stuff too seriously on the internet. It makes me ridiculously easy to troll, especially when combined with my inability to avoid an argument. But that's a dangerous mentality to have if you want to publish online (I make a distinction between personal blogging, like this, and writing for a site); whatever you write, some segment of the audience will disagree and a percentage of them will be vocal and aggressive in their dissent.

I don't think I have the constitution to put up with that. Last night I deleted comments I'd made on a site because I saw the site owner complain - on Twitter, mentioning no names or specific articles - about a discussion I was involved in. Part of me thought, if you've got a comments section on your website you need to expect to see stuff you don't like. But it's also one of my favourite sites (and the guy in question is one of my favourite writers), and it crushed me a little to see that dismissal of my contribution to the community.

So I'm not really committed enough to run a site. I don't have the conviction of my opinions to argue for them when challenged, and I don't have the ability to step back and see when I'm being deliberately provoked or trolled. And then I remove my posts to appease someone who won't even notice?

It's a pity - I thought I'd had a really interesting site concept (even if the broad idea was… borrowed from somewhere else).

1 An anime news/reviews website with a focus on the (at the time) emerging anime community in Northern Ireland. Like everything in Northern Ireland, the anime scene was eventually ruined by stupid bickering.

Monday, April 01, 2013

You kill or you die... or you die and you kill.

Not entirely sure where I sit on the new episode (and season inasmuch as there is one so far) of Game of Thrones. The early episodes, I suppose, are going to be recap, reminders and setup for the rest of the season, and I'm intrigued to see where some of the characters go from here.

Though Peter Dinklage, as usual, steals the show; his scene with Charles Dance is a particular highlight, and Tyrion Lannister's journey is, again, the bit I'm most looking forward to.

We also watched the season finale for The Walking Dead's third series - what a change of pace (and quality) from GoT. I don't honestly know why I'm still watching this rubbish; it's like they can't do anything interesting or cool without immediately doing something overwhelmingly stupid with it. I'm hoping the season break will let me get over the show and then I'll be able to skip the rest, but I have a feeling I'll be back on the wagon when it rolls around next year.

At least Mad Men starts again next week, although I'm sure it'll take a few episodes before I remember everything that's happened in the past five seasons.

Now, I'm going to go rewatch as many episodes of Kids on the Slope as I can manage before I fall asleep. I saw someone mention it earlier, and I've been bitten by that bug again.