Friday, 6 November 2015

Viriconium and the Lesson Learned

Viriconium is a tough read – you might want to immerse yourself slowly in the language M. John Harrison uses to describe his vision of Earth in a far-distant future, otherwise you may find yourself drowning: Big words and long descriptive passages are his stock in trade…

“In the water-thickets, the path wound tortuously between umber iron-bogs, albescent quicksands of aluminum and magnesium oxides, and sumps of cuprous blue or permanganate mauve fed by slow, gelid streams and fringed by silver reeds and tall black grasses.”

As a writer, I found the language fascinating; as a reader I found the passages hard-going and I began to question why I was still reading this book, considering that I had struggled through only a quarter of it. Wouldn’t I get more satisfaction from riding my skateboard out in the sun? Perhaps even working on that song that I wrote the other night that doesn’t have any lyrics yet!
There had to be a reason I was wading through these verbose descriptions that culminated in dizziness and a weight-riddled head, as though my brain was trying to bust out of the skull in an attempt to escape. There had to be.
Flipping the book over, I read the quotes on the back cover: “Harrison is a blazing original …” (Clive Baker). I nodded my head – he was definitely different. “One of the best modern writers of fantasy. No, one of the best modern writers period” (Katharine Kerr). Harrison wasn’t convincing me of his brilliance. “No-one can use words like M. John Harrison. They trust him” (Michael Marshall Smith). Maybe my problem is that I don’t trust words, maybe that’s why this book is such a hard slog through tortuous word-thickets and albescent quicksands of paragraphs.
And yet I pick the book up again and push on.
It’s true, y’ know – I don’t trust words. Words cower when I demand their use, they go into hiding, they look for better writers than me to express their inner beauties.
I stumble.
Far too often,
On my own inadequacies.
So I rest for a while, have a break from reading. Midnight is closing in and I have words, many of them – mostly Harrison’s – swirling around my head like a thesaurus. But what to do with them? I pick up pen and paper and suddenly words come pouring out in short verse-like sentences that don’t make any apparent sense, but I don’t care because I am writing, and words spill forth with more enthusiasm than ever before, demanding that I write them down instead of going into hiding. Where once inspiration would peter out under the weight of criticism, here instead, I let go of all preconceptions and get more done.
I titled the piece ‘The Candle End of Time,’ but when I had the (brilliant) idea to attach it to the song without lyrics that I had written, it became ‘The Sign of the Locust’ – both are references to Viriconium, the book that taught me to trust words.
It is ironic that in preparing for this essay I read an article where Harrison states: “This is one of Viriconium’s many jigsawed messages to the reader. You can’t hope to control things. Learn to love the vertigo of experience instead.”
Reading Viriconium was nothing short of experiencing vertigo!

Palmerston North     

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

In reply to 'Rules of the Game' by Daniel Golding

Note: In 2012 Hyper magazine published an article by Dan Golding titled 'Rules of the Game'. I'm not sure (that is can't remember) what position he was taking in the article but this was my response. Having discovered this in my files yesterday, I thought it was written well enough to be posted here.

I think we can safely say, and agree upon, that video-gaming is not a sport. Sports, in my opinion, require physical activity beyond twiddling your fingers and exercising the synapses in your brain. I believe that a game needs competition, and that competition must be an adversary of some type. This begs the question, is chess a game if you are playing against yourself? Well, I would argue, yes, because you are facing the adversary who just happens to be yourself. Fair game, I guess.
It's easy to view sport orientated videogames such as Wii Sports and Tekken or Street Fighter as games because they inherently take the forms of sport and apply them to the computerised world, thus taking out the 'sport' but retaining the game. So by that definition, game is form, not activity.
Any sports-modelled videogame still requires a competition-based form to involve yourself in the playing of: whether you are playing against your flatmate or the computer, you are still playing against an adversary that you may not win against.
When we enter the world of story-based videogaming, we are not entering a game, as there is no other competition, no one I am competing against; I am simply taking part in an exploration of a story-based entertainment. By picking up a console controller, customising my character and deciding which reply my character will answer with, I am no longer a passive viewer accepting another person's story as it is told to me, but an active part of the story who makes sincere and often involving decisions about how another person's story is going to be told to me – that is interactive entertainment. It is not a game, there are no rules, but there is a specific storyline that must be adhered to to get the full entertainment value out of.
The problem with viewing story-based videogames as a 'game' is knowing that it is a forgone conclusion that you will win, when essentially, all you are doing is concluding the story that you begun by opening your videogame box and inserting the disc – practically no different than picking up a DVD and inserting the disc, or via a different medium, picking up a book and opening the first page.
No matter what setting you play the story-based videogame on – even on the hardest setting – you can win if you put in enough time. The reality of the true game is that another player just might be better than you no matter how much time you put in. In that sense, only the videogame itself is your adversary. Can I really beat Dead Space 2 with only three saves allowed? I certainly can! (The question is, can I be bothered?)

Online is different though. Online we have competition. We have many players playing against each other, racking up high scores and at times competing for prizes. And, although I have never played online, are there not rules that accompany how you play online? Or perhaps, codes of conduct would be a better phrase.
A game of chess, or tennis, dictates how you play simply by the rules that have been created to accommodate the form of the game. Yes, it is possible to cheat, and there in lies the necessity to acquire a judge or adjudicator to impart impartiality.
Videogaming requires no referee, no adjudicator to check if I am cheating or not. That, assuming cheat codes are available, is entirely my choice, and at the end of the day I only answer to myself.
When playing a traditional game in competition with another, you cannot afford to stand around and do nothing, otherwise your adversary will take advantage of your slack and begin scoring points against you. Many videogames I have played, I have allowed my character to stand around doing nothing, or hide in a corner to generate more health.

I believe that developers need to ask themselves whether they are building a 'game', or an 'interactive entertainment'.
If developers really want their products to be viewed as games, they need to stop making every mission and quest so easy to complete by providing instructions, cues, markers and arrows that make the story and puzzles nothing more than a walkthrough.
On the other hand, if developers are only making interactive entertainments, then it is the attitude of gamers themselves that need to change. The reason Prince of Persia (2008) flopped was not because of the game, which was a beautifully rendered semi-cell shaded enjoyable romp through an imaginary fairytale land, but because of the voices that decried its 'easiness' and the resulting criticisms towards the gameplay (and rather thin plot). For once, I had an interactive entertainment that obeyed its own internal logic – if the story requires my character to win-out in the end, then it makes complete and utter sense that he doesn't die during the story. PoP (2008) I believe, is the first true example of an interactive entertainment through the videogame form without relying on the actual 'game' element whereby it is necessary for you to try not to die or be 'beaten' by the computer.

  • 2012, Whangamata

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Monday 1st December, 2014

What’s been happening Mr. Stubbs?
Far Cry 3 has been happening, that’s what.
Was it any good?
Well, it was a lot of fun once the story pissed off. The worst thing about this game was being locked into missions. Second to that, I think, was the story itself. I felt so bored by all the cutscenes. I did like Vaas as a villain though, but like some forum commenters, I too thought he was under-developed. Hoyts turned out to be nothing interesting so it would have been far more interesting to see Vaas still alive and trying to kill Hoyts as well. The player then could have had the choice to let Vaas do it himself, but making him more powerful, or to try to kill Hoyts first to stop Vaas from gaining power, but having to deal with Vaas at the same time as a consequence. Or something like that. Overall, the story theme, that of slave-trading, was fine, but I thought the whole mushroom tripping and amazon-warrioresque aspects were generally pretty dumb and pointless. So many times through a cutscene I was pressing buttons on the controller in hope that the apparently non-mapped ‘skip cutscene’ button would suddenly spring into existence. But it didn’t, and I was left to voice my non-caring attitude out loud.
The story might have had more impact if the player character was one of the local islanders themselves and had to pick up weapons to save a bunch of white-American holidayers, or even make them a bit of a mix-up: French, Canadian, American, etc. In some ways, it could test the player as to how much they need to care about some random people opposed to their own fellow local inhabitants who were also in danger of being kidnapped by Vaas and his pirates. Or even, if the fellow inhabitants were getting disillusioned and slowly going over to Vaas’s side, so then some of the missions would revolve around collecting evidence through the kidnapped holidayers, or otherwise.
And with that idea in place you could even throw in the twist of if you save the foreigners, they call their parents/family to say that they are okay, but if you don’t, the families come in with their ‘big foreign weaponry’ (government sanctioned, or private) and completely fuck shit up but in doing so bomb you and the locals, thus turning them into the new and more powerful enemies.
Hmmm. Sounds like a completely different game now.
Far Cry 3 just needed to stick to its basic slave-trading template with one insane villain who was growing more and more powerful.
Here’s another way of getting around the “white guy saving the locals” colonialism aspect of the game:
  1. Player is local guide that takes holiday foreigners on their trip,
  2. Player is kidnapped with the foreigners,
  3. Player is constantly being taunted by Vaas to become a pirate like him,
  4. Player is constantly asking themselves how important saving the foreigners are, opposed to the player-character’s local community who are also in danger of being kidnapped, or losing faith and going over to Vaas,

This would have then given greater impact to the final choice of taking the life of the foreigner at the end, especially if she was the first one you saved and became a love interest who actually fought along side of you.
But then, in this version there’s no mushroom tripping either, so that choice might not work as well.
But it could.
Imagine if the syringes that the player crafted became the trip sequences whenever they were injected, and the game twisted everything around so it felt like you were fighting your own people until the effect wore off. Some players might enjoy that and do the syringes heaps, others would never use them again, but the final mushroom trip you were given took you over the edge forcing you to question everything and making that final decision more potent.
As it was I just wanted to throw my controller at the wall because the designer or writer had dared to expect me to think a final choice was hard to make when throughout the entire time I was completely invested in saving the lives of my friends. Liza’s whining throughout did nothing to change that.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Draft Version

As I fall again into Depression,
This weight is something more than I can stand.
And again, Gravity will play the robber,
        again and again and again.
        The thief persuading me to fight against it
        like I had a chance.

I’m sorry for the bruises
I inflicted upon you,
I never meant harm
only to have you with me.
        Just in case.

Creases and folds of your pages,
Slight tears to the edges,
Shoved into my bag with my shoes
So I can walk the beach
        an observational disaster,
        Lucky for the reprints, Barber

Here I sit 7km out
to do some writing,
But I can barely hold this pen.
        Dribbling across the page
        38 on an infant stage

If the strength of my calves,
Could be transferred to these fingers,
If some kind of inspiration
Could ravish my brain

Instead of the sunken skin across my face
Pulling at my bones, dragging down my crown
Threatening to reveal the tears sidling under the balls of
        my white eyes.

If there was another way, Marlowe
To survive the death,
And still be remembered
Would the pseudonym fit the words?

Or would they bleed another lie from the quill,
Like all half-truths when distilled?
        Begging for more explanations
        As though rational deductions
        Could change the outcomes.

        I was a summer squall
        Crashing waves upon the shore,
        Ignoring the heat of the beating sun
        Exiting my return with a plumb

A life in verse
Remember the lines,
        remember the lines,
Avoid the curse,
       It was all for naught.

  • 18/01/15, Gisborne