Friday, November 30, 2007

Bark: Muhammered

My illness this week has prevented me from blogging about an increasingly bizarre week in the news, but the one stand-out story for me this week hasn't been the Labour Party funding crisis, but the story about the religious and political furore surrounding a British Primary School Teacher in the Sudan, which has reached an all-time nadir for making mountains out of molehills.

Something tells me that if this teacher hadn't been white, British and Christian, we never would have got to the stage where people would be marching down the streets, baying for blood, because a teacher had allowed her students to name their class teddy bear after The Prophet. Some idiot in the Sudanese government has decided that this would be a great way of scoring a few cheap political points, and turned what would normally be considered to be a quite cute gesture of friendship respect towards a classmate (himself called Muhammad) by a few school kids into a full-blown religious insult worthy of jihad.

I despair. I really do.

If nothing else, this demonstrates precisely why religion and governance should remain two entirely separate entities. I've always been happy to let people believe in what they want, if it makes them happy, but this kind of rabid fundamentalism (which is not unique to Islam - Christians and Jews are just as bad... hell, even atheists aren't immune to being fundamentalist wankers) makes it look like humanity is still in the chuffing Dark Ages.

I can understand why Muslims might think there theology is under attack, indeed, there was a writer on last night's Channel Four News who claims that all religion is being marginalised in modern society, and she had to withdraw from doing a speech at a Christian Carol Service because her speech "might offend non-believers in the audience"... which begs a question: if you're a "non-believer" what the chuff are you doing at a carol service? But anyway... faiths don't do themselves any favours when the merest perceived slight can prompt this kind of reactionary hatred of people who might disagree with your beliefs. And here was me thinking that religions preached forgiveness, tolerance, peace and love? The evidence from the last week (nay, the last couple of millennia) would seem to prove otherwise...

Bark: The moral of the story

Never, ever, have a really good weekend... Why?

BECAUSE THEY WILL PUNISH YOU.

I've been suffering all week with a flu-like running nose (my nose has done several marathons today already), headaches and a very irritating recurrent cough, which has been preventing me from eating and sleeping (and also, working - but I'm not complaining so much about that) for the last few days. I started coughing up phlegm yesterday, which you would think is a sign of progress, but unfortunately it hasn't really improved matters, and the coughing has been accompanied by that feeling you get at the back of your throat whenever you've had some loose tea, and a tiny little leaf or twig fragment has gotten stuck in your craw. Annoying for five or ten minutes, yeah... try having that feeling for FOUR DAYS.

My manager at work thinks it's tonsillitis, and I'm inclined to agree with her. It's definitely swollen and painful back there, and I think I clawed out a tonsillolith last night, though I clearly didn't get rid of all of it, as I've still got that "something's stuck in your throat" feeling.

I'm off to the doctor in about 10 minutes, so hopefully they can sort me out, because this just isn't fun any more...

[Update:]
Just got back from the doctor's surgery, with a truckload of drugs.

We had a mild disagreement about the diagnosis, as he thinks I've got a rather virulent case of viral pharyngitis, though I managed to persuade him to prescribe me some penicillin, just in case things don't improve in the next day or two, and the problem happens to be bacterial, rather than viral. House-like, I still think it's an infection, rather than a virus, or possibly even both (no reason why there should only just be ONE thing wrong with me, right?), but I'm going to take the doc's advice and give it another day or two until I start taking the antibiotics (since if it is only just a virus, antibiotics won't do the slightest thing to help anyway), and just take a few ibuprofen to reduce the swelling in my throat and dull the pain a little...

Anyway, fingers crossed the road to recovery starts here, and that my girlfriend won't strangle me tonight for making her miss too many nights of sleep. Time will tell who's right, and at least I do have the option of taking the antibiotics if I need them... right, back to bed for me, I think...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bark/Byte: A most productive weekend

This weekend has probably taken about five years off the length of my life, but it has to go down as one of the most enjoyable weekends I've had in years.

On Friday night I got the rare opportunity to be a dirty, drunken stop-out, as I was attending the Videogamer.com launch party, where I finally got to meet the people who I've been writing for over the last three years or so. I think my liver and kidneys have only just re-opened diplomatic relations with my brain, after taking exception to my decision to see what all the fuss over Vodka and Red Bull is about after I'd already drunk perhaps half a dozen pints of beer - that wasn't a pretty morning after; though at least I wasn't alone in that regard. Not so much The House of the Dead, rather The House of Sore Heads...

The edge did get taken off my hangover by playing Mass Effect for a couple of hours on Saturday on a FIFTY-FIVE INCH plasma screen. Spectacular is not the word. Or perhaps it is... at any rate, what I played was impressive enough to convince me that I need to acquire a 360 to play it - I think that will be my birthday present to myself in January. After driving home around a curiously quiet M25 mid-afternoon, I had a nap before putting on the glad rags to have dinner with an ex-colleague of Fleur. I managed a glass and a half of Cru Bourgeois and my liver didn't protest too much...

On Sunday I was up fairly early - 9.30 is early for me on a weekend, anyway - so spent the morning reading Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, which is a slightly bizarre cross between auto-biography and a novel - but in a good way. Vonnegut makes me ponder the question of what really makes good writing: words are just words, a sentence is a sentence, so what makes some writing good and some writing bad when it is all constructed of the same basic raw material? Vonnegut answers this most eloquently with his writing: it's not so much the style of writing as what is being said - is it interesting, does it make you care or want to read more? It doesn't matter if it's narrative or musing, unless you can connect to the message being conveyed, it doesn't matter how it's delivered. This is what Vonnegut manages to do brilliantly - he has a message, and puts it across in a really beautiful way.

After devouring the entirety of Timequake in little more than a morning, I spent my afternoon playing Unreal Tournament III, which I have to say I found a wee bit underwhelming.

Yes, it's graphically glorious - probably the prettiest game I own, thanks to SOME BASTARD STEALING MY COPY OF CRYSIS IN THE POST, the new Necris vehicles and hoverboard are awesome (I love camping enemy bases in Darkwalkers), the new maps I've tried seem pretty good, but there just seems to be something missing. I tried playing the new Warfare mode online, and it was laggy as hell, I had weird sound glitches and the game just didn't seem to flow as well as before. I'm not convinced about the Orb - it's almost like they've tried to combine Onslaught with Bombing Run, and I'm not convinced it works. The rest is just deathmatch and capture the flag, really - so I'm not impressed they dropped the Assault game mode again, either. The single player "campaign" is pretty ridiculous, too. Trying to hack a narrative around deathmatch and capture the flag levels really doesn't make much sense - it was more in keeping with the game style when you got to build your team and play through a tournament. This whole "battlefield respawners" thing and the backronym for FLaG (Field Lattice Generator) is ludicrous. I'm not sure I'll be bothering any more with the single player campaign, as I really don't give a monkeys whether the Necris slaughter all life on Earth or not... it just seems a bit too contrived. There are a few other things I don't like, as well: the arrow trails pointing you in the direction of the next node seems like a real step backwards. The best thing about Onslaught was that you could attack more than one node and the game gave you the freedom to go off on your own and sneak a capture while everyone else was fighting for the middle ground. Here it seems like they're trying to funnel people towards a particular direction, which gets rid of a lot of the tactical freedom you have. I could be really nasty and say that it's to make things easier for the console-'tards, but I'm not sure that's true - since most console-'tards are PC gamers as well; it's like they've designed in the functionality to the game so that you don't have to learn the maps anymore... Trying to make your game accessible and user-friendly is one thing, but leading players around by the nose with arrows and saying "this is how you should fight over the maps" is another thing entirely. The joy of online gaming is the unpredictability and randomness of it all - if you try and take that away with "user aids" you might as well just fight bots. Very sad, really... 7/10.

I followed that with a trip to the gym (shock, horror!), doing a full set of weights and a bit of cardio-work on the arc-trainer. And I didn't have a heart attack, which was nice. I should have had an early night after all that, but I didn't, of course. Instead I watched Top Gear (James May is increasingly my hero - which is getting rather worrying) and then played through MASQ another couple of times, finally finding the beach ending where you get to run off with Nikki and Andrew to start a new life (though Susan wasn't really pleased about that).

So, all in all, a packed and rewarding weekend. It's almost a relief to get back to work, so I can sit down and relax...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Byte: Digital Rights Mismanagement

An article about copy protection on Rock Paper Shotgun has spawned a very interesting comments thread. Make sure you read Chris Delay's thoughts as well.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Bark/Byte: Consolation

It's been over a week and Crysis still hasn't arrived, which I guess means that some bastard in the postage system has filtched it. Thieving scum. And I have to wait another two weeks before I can even report that it's gone AWOL, because Play say you have to give them 21 days before they can investigate... annoying. It's the first thing I've ever had go missing from Play in about three years, so I guess, statistically speaking, something was bound to go missing at some point; just WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE THIS ONE? RAARRRGGH.

At least I have plenty of other things to play. Hopefully my copy of Unreal Tournament 3 WILL arrive in the next day or two, and beyond that, I've still got The Witcher, Race 07 and Metroid Prime 3 to keep me gainfully occupied.

Now that I've got my consoles fully HD'd up, I had a brief flirt with Metroid - and got stuck on the first boss, naturally. The component cable seems to have sorted out the problems I'd been having with sound loss that affected both the Wii and the Gamecube (when I had one) - I don't think that they liked sharing the same SCART socket with the Xbox, so I had to turn the volume up to maximum just so I could hear anything - but with the component leads and switcher box, the sound is absolutely fine. It's nice being able to play Wii games when you can actually hear what the heck is going on... so I'll be playing a lot more on it in the near future, as I've got one hell of a backlog to get through: Mercury Meltdown Revolution, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Super Paper Mario and Metroid Prime 3... not to mention all the Gamecube games (Resident Evil 4, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, P.N.03, Metroid Prime 1 & 2...) I have still have to finish, too.

But the one thing that's really stopping me from getting too depressed about Crysis going missing is that England is now in national mourning. As a Scotsman, I find this kind of abject failure of the England team highly amusing, and the hand-wringing press coverage even more so. HAH-HAAH! NOW YOU KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE, YOU SMUG ENGLISH TWATS. Welcome to the world of a Scotland supporter....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Byte: Maybe Mr. T is pretty handy with computers!

Mr. T and William Shatner have done some rather awesome TV adverts for World of Warcraft.

Mr. T is the greatest. I want a Night Elf Mohawk now...

Bark: Simply Staggering

This kind of incompetence just beggars belief.

What kind of idiot sends TWENTY FIVE MILLION personal records through the post on an unencrypted CD, not just once, BUT TWICE? A special kind of idiot: we call them Civil Servants.

You don't send a dump of an entire database, especially one that contains names, addresses, National Insurance numbers and bank account details through the fucking post. It's an identity thief's wet dream. I guess this is what you get when you let people who don't understand IT systems take positions where they have to manage and distribute electronic data. Unbelievable, and unforgivable.

Twenty five million people is pretty much 50% of the population of the UK, and their details are now floating around out there somewhere, waiting to be found - I wonder how many people are going to have to change their bank accounts now - and all it took was one imbecile wearing a suit to do something stupid... it just shows you how you can set up all the safeguards and procedures you like, but the system is still fragile and vulnerable to a single user interaction...

What makes things even worse is that this numpty is still probably in their job - because trying to fire a Civil Servant is like trying to get a government minister to accept responsibility... and the government will still try and push through the ID card scheme - a system which will contain these kinds of personal records for everyone in the country - when they can't even keep a grip on the data they already have. It's ludicrous. Shakespeare had it wrong when he had Dick the Butcher in Henry VI say "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" - we should get rid of the civil servants first, and then the politicians. Then we can worry about the lawyers...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Byte: Midweek Crysis

Since my copy of Crysis (which was posted last Wednesday) STILL HASN'T TURNED UP, I've been ploughing more time into Race 07 - the review of which I should be finishing later this week, so more on that later - and replaying through The Witcher, just for the fun of it.

The Witcher has probably been my most pleasant gaming surprise of the year, though clearly not everyone seems to agree - *cough*PC Gamer*cough* - but that's fine, I guess, you're never going to please everyone. It is odd though, that they're so far off the average, especially when you consider that most people will read a 67% mark in PCG as a "don't touch with a barge pole", and I have to admit I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this one.

The Witcher's a heck of a lot better than 67% - I rate it above Neverwinter Nights 2, for example, which I found was curiously overrated by just about everyone to the tune of 10-20%, seemingly because three people might possibly use the toolset to make a module that doesn't suck like a Dyson with a 20,000HP, supercharged turboshaft engine. The accusation of the game being misogynist is a little baffling as well - misogynist implies a hatred of women - Geralt may be a rake, but it's clear that he's a serial womaniser because his profession requires him to move around so much and because he likes spending time with women - not because he's harbouring some secret hatred of the female of the species - in fact, this behaviour is almost expected of him in the context of the world's fiction (as evidenced by his liaison with Rosalind in chapter 3). Furthermore, the women themselves are more often than not the ones who initiate the encounters with him; it's not like Geralt is a callous rapist leaving a trail of broken lives behind him... so, misogynist? No. Crass? Yes. Bawdy? Definitely. But misogynist or sexist? I don't see it myself. You could have the same argument over whether Page 3 or "Men's Mag" girls are misogynist or not - whether you like ogling them or not, are they being exploited, or do the girls know exactly what they are getting themselves into and are exploiting men's predilection for attractive women by earning more money for a handful of photoshoots than the people who look at them do in a year? I'll leave you to form your own judgement on that one...

It is funny though how this kind of contention with a videogame always springs up when the subject of sex is involved - if it were an argument just over the violence, people would just be saying "ah, just get on with it", but mention sex and the brains of foamy-mouthed, ADHD-twitching, Counterstrike-playing twelve year olds will no doubt explode, so they need to be "protected"? Personally, I don't think reviewers should have to moralise to justify a score for a game, though I did in my Witcher review just as much as PCG's did - albeit from a diametrically opposite point of view - where do you draw the line on judging a game on moral grounds? Do we really want to reach the point where you can't give a game a good score because someone might find the content distasteful? It does really strike me as odd, as we don't seem to have much trouble with games based around killing people, but most people in real life indulge in sex and find it a natural enough thing to do, but don't go around killing people with assault weapons, since murder and manslaughter are rather frowned upon, to put it mildly... I could name books or films that stand out as brilliant examples of their particular form, despite (or perhaps because of) morally ambiguous or objectionable content, so why the disparity with videogames?

I'll have to put some more thought into this one...

Anyway - some good news, before this post becomes too angsty - my Xbox HD component lead and component switcher box turned up today. On tonight's menu (assuming Crysis still hasn't arrived by the time I get home): Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in 32 inches of spangly HD-component-o-vision.

TASTY.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bark: Let it snow

Apparently half the country ground to a halt yesterday because of unpredicted snow flurries. I was completely oblivious to this fact until I got into work this morning, because in my little part of the world IT WAS CHUCKING IT DOWN WITH RAIN ALL DAY.

I miss proper winters. It's not that I like being cold, rather that if I have to be cold, snow is infinitely preferable to rain... Snow is pretty and fun, while rain's just dismal and depressing, especially when the days are so short. So next time you decide to snow in the UK, Mr Climate, please drop about three feet of the stuff on my flat.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Byte: Happiness is a big Mother-Liking TV

As I've been a bit busy lately with reviewing The Witcher, playing MASQ for kicks and also getting stuck into Race 07 (for review), I've been neglecting the consoles again. That, however, is about to change, because I've just eBayed a 3rd-party Xbox HD component lead and a component switcher box, so I can have both my Xbox and my Wii hooked up in HD to the new TV.

I have, of course, messed around a little with the consoles on the new TV, using their standard SCART connections (playing KotOR in gigant-o-vision was just to mouthwatering a prospect to ignore) but without being able to use the RGB SCART socket (which is occupied by the DVD player), I had noticed that the Xbox image was suffering from a little blurring, especially at the edges of the screen; not so badly that it made the games impossible to play (and might have more to do with the fact that KotOR doesn't have a widescreen mode more than anything else), but I did think it would hurt my eyes after a couple of hours - so I thought I might as well go for the component cables to sharpen up the image - after all, what's the point of having an HD TV if you're not going to use the HD bit?

The other reason for getting the HD cable for the Xbrick was that my buddy Charles has been suggesting that I should mod it into a proper media centre, which includes a multi-region DVD player than can up-scale the original DVD output into 720p. Which sounds rather good to me, as it means I can get rid of the old cheapo DVD player I got from ASDA five years ago for about £38 (which I turned into a multi-region player using a remote control hack - gotta love cheap, globalised technology!), meaning there will be enough room in the TV unit for me to sneak in an Xbox 360 next year when Fleur isn't looking. Whoops! Did I say that out loud?

Bark: The Life Aquatic

You should know by now that I can't resist a good story about squirrels.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bark: What. The. Chuff?

Scottish court sentences man to three years probation for... wait for it... having sex with his BICYCLE. I think this calls for a ... or maybe even a ...... Or perhaps as a last resort a :-0

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Byte: It's like watching a car crash in slow motion where no-one's wearing seat belts

Eurogamer post their Assassin's Creed review (which pretty much confirms what I thought the game would be like). Cue the inevitable comments thread blaming everything on Jade Raymond. For the uninitiated, Jade is a) a woman, b) really quite attractive and c) the game's producer.

I don't pretend to know a huge amount about videogames production, but I do know this: You don't get to the position of being the producer of a high profile title like Assassin's Creed with a company like Ubisoft without being DAMNED GOOD AT THE JOB. I'm with Kieron on this one (see posts 102 and 151)...

Byte: With apologies to Iggy Pop

You're wearing a MASQ! You're wearing a MASQ! Which MASQ are you?

I finally got around to playing MASQ, thanks to Tom F's feature on it hitting the PCG website. I've played through nearly half of my forty lives (that you get free with the download), and I'm pretty sure I've not even found half of the possible endings yet.

The game might not sound too promising at first glance: you're the chairman of a fashion company, who needs money to front a televised fashion show to launch your new range of highly revealing underwear, but quite soon the intrigue starts to kick in. Your wife wants you to take on a project from her boss, Williams, to fund the gig, while your other option for funding is a loan from the bank. The new clerical assistant, Nikki, is trying to get you into her pants and your business partner Carlos has gone missing after a night on the tiles with someone who wasn't his wife. The kicker is that Williams wants to ruin you so he can steal your wife, and he's rather well connected, since he's married to a mobster's daughter.

From such a relatively simple premise, the level of choice in what you can do is rather staggering. It's not false choice, either: you've got real moral choice - do you sleep with Nikki and betray your wife? Do you stay faithful to her? Or do you "service" them both and try to get away with it? You can also find out the truth behind Carlos's disappearance, get thrown in jail, get killed, divorced, end up a miserable business failure or a resounding success. Not all the characters are what they appear to be, either. You can also consort with gangsters, assault bankers, engage in bit of espionage and even shoot people in the cock. There's so much in there that it's almost a shame that you're limited to 40 "lives" - the 40 runs through of the final episode (episode 5) in the game - but there are possibilities of reaching endings before you get into Episode 5, none of them being particularly positive.

I think my favourite ending so far (spoilers here, obviously) was getting Susan (your in-game wife) to warn Capricho, the mobster, so when Williams (your main antagonist in the game) tries to have him assassinated, he's wearing a bullet-proof vest, so while Williams starts gloating about his victory, he gets his throat slashed by his somewhat irate father-in-law (accompanied by my favourite line in the game: "Do you believe in knife after death?") and you launch your product with a whole load of razzmatazz and live happily ever after with Susan. That is, until Nikki sends Susan the tape recording of you having rough sex with her... whoops.

After playing through it quite a few times now, I can see why it made it into PCG's Top 100. It might not be graphically stunning (though the art is nicely done with very clean lines and a good amount of detail) and it might not have any sound at all, but it's nicely scripted and it's quite amazing to see how densely they've managed to pack story elements into a game that only takes about half an hour to play through. I highly recommend downloading it, as there's a lot in there to experiment with and it is free after all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Byte: As good as Zywiec

For the uninitiated, Zywiec is a fine Polish lager beer, that my local supermarket started stocking after Britain started getting invaded by Polish plumbers a couple of years ago. I like it a lot; my liver less so, since you could tranquillise rhinos with it.

Another Polish import I rather like at the moment is The Witcher, of which I'm now rather glad I asked for review code. I've spent the last couple of weeks playing it, and in terms of a videogame, it's been one of the most pleasant surprises I've had this year. After the somewhat predictable disappointment of the Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion, The Witcher was pretty much my last hope of a decent single-player RPG experience this year, and I have to say I was rather impressed. Great graphics and sound, a decent enough story and lashings of foul language, sex and ultra-violence... what's not to like? Assuming you're rather more open-minded than the typical Daily Mail reader, that is.

As I say in the review, it's my favourite single-player RPG since Oblivion, so it's well worth a punt if you fancy something to counter-weight all those flashy shooters that are hitting the street right now.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bark: RIP Rory

My parents' cat, Rory, had to be put down today. He was almost 20 years old - quite amazing for a cat, and I'm sure he only lived that long just to annoy everyone... I'm going to miss him a lot - because despite being a grumpy old bugger, he was such a lovely cat.



Photo courtesy of Mum.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bark: Brownie Points +1,000,000

The new TV had its desired effect when my girlfriend got home tonight. She gasped the second she saw it, and stood there dumbfounded for about five minutes. In twelve years, I don't think I've actually ever seen her literally speechless before.

It is a spectacularly gorgeous bit of kit, though. Not a single dead pixel, either. It's just a little unfortunate that our TV aerial, which is shared with the flat above us (as we're in a block of flats) is slightly misaligned, so our TV reception isn't perfect - but at least we can pick up Film4 properly now, and the in-built signal amplifier means that the reception is a little bit better than before. It's the quality of the DVD playback where it really shines, though.

I tried out a couple of the major action scenes in Revenge of the Sith, and it's absolutely awesome. I get the feeling we're going to be watching rather more films now. I just need to pick up a HDMI lead for the Wii, and then I can really make a start with Metroid Prime 3. I might also replace the Xbox with a 360 come my birthday in January as well. Though that might depend on the car, as it needs an MOT, road taxing and a service in the next few months... and do you remember what I said yesterday about wanting to buy the TV *now* so something else didn't just swallow up the money instead?

Well, as I was dropping the old TV off at the recycling centre, the battery in the car gave up the ghost. So when I did my civic duty and was socially and environmentally conscious about not just smashing the thing to bits or kicking it out of the door of my car (à la Vincent Hanna in Heat), I went to restart the car, turned the key in the ignition and... nothing. Dead as a proverbial Dodo. That's the last time I fucking do any recycling, thinks I. Though I can't complain too much, five years and 68,000 miles isn't bad for a car battery, and after all, this is why I'm an AA member. That's the breakdown people, not Alcoholics Anonymous... £77 pounds later - just as well I'd bought the TV the previous day, otherwise I might have gotten all sensible and put it off for another few months. And where would be the fun in that?

Right, I'm off to watch Heroes in 32 inches of super-ace-widescreen-o-vision.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bark: Someone's in for a shock

My girlfriend and I celebrate twelve years together as a couple on Friday, so I've been putting some thought into what she might like as a present. The usual options of flowers, chocolate and dirty weekends away are all out, because a) she keeps killing the orchids I buy her, b) she keeps telling me not to buy her chocolate, and c) she's planned a night out with the girls from work on Saturday, so I can't whisk her away to Paris like I did for our tenth "anniversary".

So what to do?

The answer was obvious. Don't wimp out doing something obvious, like buying her some earrings or a necklace. Oh, no. I bought a 32" LCD HD TV, instead. It gets delivered tomorrow. I better have the ambulance on standby for when Fleur gets home...

Byte: And the award for Best Subtitle Pun for a Videogames Article of the Year goes to...

Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer!

Title: Daniel Craig didn't want to do Bond game
Subtitle: Double oh go on then

Well, I found it funny...

Bark: Sixty pence

I almost did it. I almost finished a month between paychecks without going overdrawn for the first time in... well, pretty much since I bought my car, actually. I missed it by sixty-FUCKING-pence. And all because of the interest the bank charged me for being overdrawn the previous month. Well, that's not entirely true - I could have put a fiver's less of diesel into the car at the weekend, but I really don't like the way that banks sneak in these charges in a way that always seems to trip a criteria where they can charge you a little more. It's not like me going sixty pence overdrawn will actually cost them anything, since I was overdrawn while the UK banking system was closed (i.e. the last transaction yesterday tipped me over, while the first transaction this morning was putting my paycheck into my account), but of course, they'll charge me for the privilege. Okay, it's only going to be a couple of pennies, but it's the principle of the thing. I would get really indignant about it, because banks really don't have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to banking charges being totally disproportionate to the actual cost of the facility they're charging you for, but for the sake of sixty pence... it's not worth the extra stress really, is it?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bark: Millais

In an effort to further my cultural education, Fleur and I paid a visit to the Millais exhibition at Tate Britain this weekend. At £11, the entry price is fairly steep, but it's worth every penny. Millais was staggeringly prolific - there are easily sixty paintings on display (I stopped counting after the first three rooms, and there are seven in the exhibition), and they are all universally superb.

One sketch study he did in preparation for Isabella is just frighteningly good. The quality of the soft shadows are simply astounding, and when you look up close you can see every single pencil stroke and how not a single one is wasted (unlike, say, one of my sketches)... kind of awe-inspiring, really.

Millais himself was quite an interesting chap, not least for nicking the wife of his best mate, and having eight kids with her; which probably explains his prolificacy as an artist as well - all those mouths to feed - and with a peak income of around £30,000 a year (one heck of a lot of money in Victorian times) at least he didn't suffer too much for his art.

My favourite pieces at the exhibition were The Eve of St Agnes, Twins, A Jersey Lily and Bright Eyes (can't find a picture, sadly), plus one of his late landscapes I can't remember the name of now. All of the pieces are pretty stunning, though, and the exhibition is very well laid out and constructed. Well worth a visit.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bark: No surprise there

Fernando Alonso leaves McLaren. An inevitable postscript on a topsy-turvy F1 season.

You've got to wonder where the heck Alonso is going to end up next season. The rumours are that he'll go to Red Bull or back to Renault. I think the latter of the two is more likely. If I were Heikki Kovalainen, I'd be getting rather excited at the prospect of a seat-swap...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Byte: And the award for Most Ill-Conceived Videogames Article Of The Year goes to...

Johnny Minkley of Eurogamer!

I'm pretty tired of the old analogy expecting films and games to be treated in the same breath and to the same standards. In many ways they are similar, but they are not the same. Games-writers, PLEASE GET THIS INTO YOUR THICK SKULLS. Gamers and games-writers are always first to crow about how videogames are so much better and more involving than films because they're interactive and you're not just a passive voyeur of the action, only to turn around and cry foul when they're judged on a different standard to those films that games are so different from. WAKE. UP. AND. SMELL. THE. FUCKING. ROSES. YOU. WHINING. HYPOCRITES.

I would take the article apart paragraph by paragraph, but I've neither the time, nor the inclination, so instead I will just address my main bones of contention.

Firstly, the very comparison of Eastern Promises to Manhunt 2 is ludicrous. Eastern Promises is primarily a character drama and only has two overtly violent scenes (not three): the scene in the barbershop and the scene in the bathhouse. The second throat-cutting isn't violent at all - because the victim character is stupendously drunk - he doesn't even realise what has been done to him for a few seconds. These scenes make up perhaps four minutes of the total screen time of an hour and forty minutes. So it's hardly a slash-a-thon like Hostel. And this brings me to my second point.

The representation of violence in Eastern Promises is so jarring compared to the rest of the film that it provokes a reaction of shock and revulsion (as it is supposed to) - the purpose of violence in the film is to sicken and repulse the viewer, to make them realise that violence is ugly, brutal and has deadly consequences - it's not there to titillate at all. The scenes do not glamourise violence in any way, shape or form, and the power of the scenes is entirely because the rest of the film is relatively genteel. Violent things happen in the film, yes, but they are not the central focus of the film - almost a complete opposite to a game like Manhunt 2. The article has either been written by someone who doesn't understand this, or has chosen to ignore it, because otherwise the comparison wouldn't fit their agenda.

Unfortunately, trying to equate a violence-driven videogame to a character and plot-driven film simply doesn't work.

The story in Manhunt 2 is almost incidental to the game experience. The whole point is to maim and kill your way through the entire length of the game - the implication being that you associate your "fun" from the game by committing acts of violence. Worse, the videogame expects you to empathise with the protagonists, (who, in the case of Manhunt 2, are mentally institutionalised sociopaths) otherwise there is no reason to continue playing the game than to commit more senseless acts of extreme violence.

Compare this to Eastern Promises: the main protagonists are a midwife and a gangster - Viggo Mortensen's character - who, it should be noted, only kills in self-defence when confronted by two knife-armed murderers. He also acts compassionately against the expected type of the role on several occasions (because there is more to the character than initially meets the eye - I won't say more for fear of spoilers).

The comparison doesn't stand up not just because one is a film and the other is a game, but because the core of what they are trying to say are literally poles apart. Manhunt 2 says "Violence is fun." Eastern Promises says "Violence wrecks lives." Two very different messages.

I've already gone on at length as to why I had no objections to Manhunt 2 being banned in the UK, so I need not reiterate them here. I've played more violent games than most, and know full well how specious the arguments are about films, books or games inspiring real-life violence. That in itself, however, is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that you can publish academic studies all you want, but mass perception of the "problem" is what matters.

Manhunt 2 has become some sort of poster boy for both sides of the violence in videogames argument, and the fixation on it (in my opinion) does nothing to change perceptions or aid either side. Instead we go around in circles saying "videogames are sick murder simulators" and "don't censor our art! you don't do it with films!"

For fuck's sake, can we move on, please? It's like a pair of blind men fighting over a pair of reading glasses. All whining about the banning of Manhunt 2 does is make gamers sound like babies who've thrown their dummies out of the pram.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! WE WANT OUR MINDLESS, GORE-SPLATTERED MURDER SIMULATORS! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!"

As far as I can see, the problem isn't that games are starting to tackle more adult issues in a more graphic and realistic way - the problem is that games are growing up and gamers aren't following suit...