Monday, 29 April 2013

You can point your finger all you like at one person's bad habits, but it won't change the problems that already exist within the system.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hello Morning

Hello morning once again,
I’ve come to wrap you in my arms again.
I brought you flowers for your windowsill,
So you could gaze
Upon them now,
And bring your light
Into their world.

Hello my darling once again,
Do you still dream or do you just pretend?
That all your troubles are so far away,
But you don’t have to
Worry now,
Love will never
Let you down.

Hello my cobblestone path,
I’ve come to hold your hands in mine again
I thought you’d like this company I give.
So you don’t have to
Walk alone,
Love will never
Let you go

Hello starlight once again,
I’ve come to look upon you as my friend.
I brought telescopes and observant eyes,
So I could gaze
Upon you now,
And let your light
Into my world.

- 09/04/13, Gisborne

Sunday, 7 April 2013

An Aversion to Music in Films and Video Games

So have you ever watched a film and wished the music wasn’t so cliché, wasn’t so persistent, wasn’t so in-your-face, and could just give the characters and action some breathing space? I barely watch films at all these days, and am far more interested in watching a film with little if no incidental music, so that I am in no way ‘influenced’ in how I should be feeling about what is happening on screen. It is unfortunate that some directors rely heavily on music to support their scenes, as though they don’t have enough confidence in themselves to film a scene that expresses it’s own emotions without the assistance of music; of course there are some who are very good at using music and that’s cool. One film I really dig for allowing important scenes to exist without music is Haywire by Steven Soderbergh. The following is one of the best fight scenes in the film and not a single shred of music - until, that is, the very end when the fight has ended.

It’s just such a great example of not relying on music as a crutch to enhance a scene, allowing the action to exist on it’s own, and to very much speak for itself. I find the culmination of this scene far more shocking without music, because I am forced into this reflective position of How am I supposed to feel about this?, instead of being told by the music just how I am supposed to feel according to Western Musical conventions. More often than not, the stylish soundtrack in Haywire is used to segue scenes together, as happens prior to this scene when Mallory and her companion set out for the night.
I got over music scores in video games very quickly after having to hear the same generic string section repeating the same themes over and over for 20 hours or more. I think I can trace it back to car racing games when having to hear the same song within a certain time frame over and over just kills it for me and I’d much rather listen to my own, and far more extensive, selection of Hard Rock and Metal songs while I attempted to ram other cars off the road for days on end. Imagine putting over 100 hours into an Open-World RPG while being forced to listen to a 79 minute soundtrack over and over and over... I get that there are people who do just that, but for me this is how music gets killed. It’s also how my experience of a video game gets killed.
I think I reacted negatively to the soundtrack in Bioshock: Infinite within the first or second major fight when I heard a specific percussion thumping that I immediately recognised as ‘the combat music’. I was in the menu screen shutting that off instantaneously! The Halo games really annoy me because the music is on the same track as the dialogue track, but at least the moody music of ODST was a welcome change.
I realise that music is supposed to be part and parcel of the entertainment factor, but to be honest with you, when a game is trying to immerse me in its world, an orchestra playing in some ethereal realm is really off-putting.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Bioshock: Infinite - Linear gameplay trapped inside a non-linear story

*End of game theme and story spoilers below*

Any story that has to wrap things up with extended scenes that explain what you have never taken part in (as a game player), hasn't done the job properly.
Spec Ops: The Line wrapped things up by explaining the reality of what you had played through and thought you had experienced, whereas Bioshock: Infinite merely takes you through from A to B and there is very little that you can do or have an opinion on about any of that. In all, if not at least some, of the scenes used at the end, there was opportunity for the player to play through those scenes as part of the developing story rather than take you through them briefly at the end as a sequence of explanations. This game could have had instead Booker and Elizabeth going backwards and forwards through time trying to understand what was happening rather than just experiencing straight forward linear action sequences.
It would have been really interesting as a player to have been able to utilise the vigors to open up special tears that thrust you into gameplay that extrapolated on the Rosalind and Robert Lutece influence and separate involvement in the creation of Columbia. Some might say "but that interrupts the separate realities of Booker existing with him appearing in the same time-frame as himself", but in Infinite that happens anyway - Booker appears in the revolution where he was killed and became a martyr. So what we have is a character who infiltrates different realities that he already does exist in or has existed in, but much of that is mere framework, or even wallpaper to some extent, rather than strong narrative building.

Other things I have and had issues with:
  • Daisy as a strong female revolutionary character was reduced to 'crazy black female'
    • I really hated the moment when Elizabeth killed Daisy. I sat there with my controller in my hand thinking 'yip, the white folks save the day again...'
    • Sure, if you put it in context of Booker being the racist Comstock, then it makes a lot of sense, but at that point, you're actually supposed to sympathise with the revolution. I mean, that universe's Booker is a flippin' martyr for crying out loud!
    • Or are you supposed to sympathise? It's certainly a discussion point, I guess.
  • Gameplay aspects like Elizabeth not opening any doors or pulling any leavers, waiting for you to do it instead even after she has just said “are you going to open the door or am I going in alone?” at which point she waits forever for you to open the door. Nice one!

  • Bullets having a physical effect on ghosts.
    • Okay, so if a ghost can have a physical effect on you, why can't you have a physical effect on a ghost? That's good reasoning, but it still seems really silly in terms of gameplay when a ghost is supposed to be able to move through walls but takes direct damage from bullets.
    • Using vigors exclusively, or combined with ammunition (like transferring shock jockey to your gun), would have made that fight far more interesting and less of a recycled combat moment.

Actually, there's nowhere near as much to gripe about as I'd like to think. My 'exploration with sky-hooks' has been covered.
Overall you could look at both Bioshocks as extrapolating on the pitfalls of idealism and the downfall of civilisations or societies based on exclusivity. And those are good things to discuss, but Infinite, however, left me with my alternative title: Bioshock: The virtues of suicide*. Because, even though there was revolution going on, the player was constantly fighting both sides of the revolution just to stay alive, and was reducing the concepts that could have been exploited in that idea to triviality, or 'not important', because the player has to get from A to B (constantly), and then finely discover his own role in the whole sordid mess.
But is it worth all the discussion going on over at Paul Tassi's two articles? I think any multiverse story can generate that kind of speculation if there is no closed loop or specified number of universes; Infinite spreads its net wide, though traverses only a few of the extended possibilities within the narrative. My general answer to that question is 'no, it's not worth it' but that's personal more than critical, as I would rather have a story teller be definite within their framework of multiple possibilities. As an example of this statement, a novelist may never state a character's age thus allowing the readers to speculate on the moral ambiguity of their actions within a clearly defined framework. It allows discussion to open up on the act itself and whether age actually is relevant in discussing [that] act. Infinite merely opens up discussions on possibilities.
Not to deride that in itself of course, after all, many people find that a fun and rewarding task. And that's fine. Bioshock: Infinite just might become a classic for the ending alone.
But I'll still want a prequel to the original Bioshock!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


"I am convinced that no one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the World without owning it."

- Paulo Coelho

The only thing a person can ever – truly – own is themselves.
The idea of ownership is based on possession and means towards possessing, but the two are very different qualities. Possession is to acquire from without and to have a means of physical control over it, though that control may be tenuous depending on the object; ownership is to have full control and to relegate all influences to a lesser position. In this respect, you can never own me, because I relegate you to a lesser position; your law, your rules, your ideas are nothing but words that I choosethat I choose! – to allow to have an influence over me – nothing more.

A person may acquire material objects through financial means, they may say "I own these because I paid for them," but this is no different than a thief re-acquiring the same objects and saying "I own these because I stole them." In both cases, possession is this 'thing' that is referred to as 'ownership'.

True ownership has no acquisition. It simply exists. "I own this because I have absolute control over it, and nothing will ever change that." You can take all my possessions away from me, you can take me hostage, you can deprive me of my identified rights, but I will always have full control over the self, over my thoughts – free my hands and legs from these chains and this mind will determine what is done with them.

This even extends to what is called 'under duress' for it is still I in ownership of myself that makes the decision to carry the crime forward. Many would face death than commit the crime, others are little concerned with the crime and value self preservation first.

I guess there are those who would say that this is all self-evident and nothing to get excited about, but I still meet many people who cling to ideas and grievances that rule their world as though they are afraid that by relinquishing control over what they cant control, everything will fall apart. But control is so fickle and only ever subject to its own subjects, which seems self defeating in the long run. Control of the self is a given, and subject to itself is filled with its own choices.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Some verses I just stumbled over

What do I dream when all dreams have come true,
When love has bridled the rage of disaffected youth?
Where do I run if home is was is the goal,
And the shelter that was sought is no longer known?

- 26/12/12, 10:34 p.m.

Who tends the field when all mouths are fed,
When hunger no longer demands worker's legs?

- 26/12/12, 11:46 p.m.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Bored with Combat: Part 2

The tedium of combat in a world that you can't explore via the new sky-hook mechanic has turned what could have been a wondrous exploration of both narrative and world building into a boring task of objective completing. The sky-hook works great as a melee weapon – gloriously violent – but that is a secondary use and its main reason for existing is never fully explored. I find myself bored every time I reach a new area and have to fight my way through it just to open a new door, only to be greeted with more combat – which I have to fight my way through just to open another door...
In such a world where everything is floating high in the sky and there are rails that connect certain sections, I wonder where the ability to use those rails to explore and travel between areas is. This great new mechanic has been completely underutilised in favour of combat and action. What we could have had instead was the challenge of finding the right rail to land on and not be swept away from the target by the wrong rail, using the freight hooks to swing between buildings with more of a fun free flow effect that could have been part of a puzzle that unlocked the next area – rather than having to constantly battle through enemies to reach the next area.
There's just no genuine fun in this game.
There's no genuine exploration in this game.
There's no genuine character development because all the characters ever do is fight their way through enemies, as though that alone is going to develop them. I could see both Booker and Elizabeth having greater development if they were allowed to genuinely argue, or at least disagree, on a path to take using either the freight hooks or rails, having them part ways, end up in the same place and then challenging the other to go back and try the other route. When the player completes both routes and gets through the obstacles in their way (not combat obstacles!), while also collecting collectables via the alternative route, there would be genuine appreciation at the end of it, a genuine feeling of "Oh, okay, so you can do it. Maybe I have a bit more faith in you now ...oh hey, what did you find?". There's always an opportunity for some great banter in interesting situations that video games seem to completely miss.
The linearity isn't stifling, because good narratives have linearity, but the ability to explore and have a fun and wondrous time exploring is stifled through not allowing sections to breath without combat, not allowing characters to get to know one another outside of combat; and what seems most important to me at the moment: not allowing the narrative to be developed without the constant interruption of combat.
The tedium of combat has made Bioshock: Infinite boring.

Bored with Combat: Part 1

Bioshock: Infinite may be the last action orientated game I play. I seem to be far more interested (but not distracted) by the sky-hooks that take you around the place, while all the shooting is just so par-for-course that it's become boring. I still remember fondly the intense action scene in Dead Space 2 when Isaac is riding on top of the giant drill and having to fight off a constant barrage of necromorphs, but that was kind of a special moment amongst quite a lot of action that probably wasn't necessary, but was still fun. In such a visually impressive environment, I wish Bioshock: Infinite had taken the Prince of Persia (2008) route and delivered a more relaxed journey with less frequent combat.
But the sad fact is that most video games are specifically built around combat. Game mechanics may be first on the list, and these may vary from travel mechanics, to weapon mechanics, to puzzle solving mechanics; but invariably they are melded with combat to create action.
Of course, it's not my goal to disparage combat, only to question whether it should be so prevalent. We know it's prevalent because of the amount of 'war-shooters' that continuously are made at the same rate that barrages of enemies are launched at players in-game, and also, because that's about the same rate that they get purchased on. There will always be a market for that. I think, due to younger players requiring action to constantly feed their rate of imagery intake, whereas, perhaps, us older generations don't need to feel hammered over the head constantly by gunfire and explosions. The younger generation will always have the numbers.
But when will game designers make the games that they want to make and nothing else? No publisher breathing down their necks demanding that the game needs to reach a wider audience, therefore needs to be simplified... Obviously I'm no longer talking about Irrational Games, since apparently they were given free-reign by 2K Games.
Hopefully with the intervention of Sony aligning the PS4 with Indie developers, games will become exactly what the developers intended. That would be a grand old thing to see.