Tales of Misery and Woe

4 Sep

Ezio Auditore: Smarmy Motherfucker

Given my recent block of free time (read: procrastinating as hard as I god damn can) I went and did something almost unthinkable – I started playing a video game made after 1995, and one from a proper studio and everything. I’ve been avoiding the vast majority of the major titles, not out of some desire to stick it to the man – although I suppose that’s a legitimate way of doing so, even if it is the lamest way possible- but because with a few exceptions they’re shinier variations of things I did a decade ago. Kill the demon,  drive the car, defeat the Nazis.

Assassins Creed 2 somehow manages to be better than that by offering a compelling narrative, a likeable protagonist, a rich and varied world to play in and an improvement of the gameplay mechanics of the first game. Essentially, what all game sequels say they’ll do, they actually did. AC1  had such a compelling free-running mechanic that it nearly compensated for everything else in the game feeling half-arsed. It also didn’t help that the protagonist, Altair, had two emotions: stoic and stoically confused. AC2 provides Ezio (pictured above) a spoiled, oversexed nobility brat who spends the course of the game becoming something that resembles a responsible adult. The game has an occasional sense of humour that’s so refreshing, and a welcome change of pace from the usual ‘YOU ARE THE SAVIOUR OF MANKIND’ stuff. The depiction of Leonardo Da Vinci is particularly good, his childlike awe and excitability for basically everything is a more compelling characterisation then the ‘learned-dude-with-beard’ that a less imaginative writer would’ve chosen, and the game gives character backgrounds for all the major villains which are filled with gory little anecdotes told with dry wit from the Snippy British Person helping out in the real world. At its best, it’s like you’re playing Medieval Iron Man– a pulp novel with enough twists on the formula to keep you entertained.

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about what videogames should be like in order to make them better. Some say they should be more like books, some say they should be more like movies, and others say you should stop being a faggot and put Master Chief in everything. Personally I don’t think there’s any single approach that’s the best, and that the idea that there is is detrimental to video games as a whole. Stuff like “everything needs a morality scale!”,  “everything needs MMO elements!” or “everything needs regenerating health” results in a dozen games a year being released without a single differentiating feature.

Take, for example, Fallout 3. By far the most compelling part of that game was picking a direction and walking until you find something cool. While the main quest was pretty dull stuff, the game shone in the margins, which I suspect was the work of the junior writers trying to impress dedicated players. If so, kudos. The wasteland was filled with weird things to discover: The crashed spaceship complete with awesome ray-gun, the vault where you trip balls and go back in time to the 1950s, the hamlet where the locals seem blissfully unaware that the apocalypse even happened and the Lovecraftian horror of The Dunwich Building. Fallout 3 was more  like playing through a short story anthology than a novel and was all the better for it. I have high hopes for Fallout: New Vegas, a quasi spinoff/sequel developed by Obsidian, which still retains some employees old enough to have worked on the best novel-as-videogame ever made, Planescape Torment.  Here’s to hoping.

The Wilderness Downtown

31 Aug

I love music videos, and I’m always looking for clips with a new twist on the format. This is  the most novel I’ve seen in a long time. It’s set to a new Arcade Fire song and it uses some fancy html coding and google maps to include your childhood home as part of the video. Of course, you could pick any address you like and have it use The MCG or a hole in the ground (a nicer hole if you grew up in Moe) but the emotional effect wouldn’t quite be the same.

This is probably the first video clip ever made that would be impossible to show on television, and in that its a unique and exciting piece of film.

The Idiot

26 Aug

In the unlikely event that David Attenborough dies before scientists find a way to turn him into an immortal cyborg, Karl Pilkington should narrate every documentary from now on.

Here’s some monkeys, dunno what they’re doing really. Could be anything.”

I’m not sure who came up with the concept, but somebody famous and clever said that all authors spend their lives trying to write one story, and their entire body of work is just variations on a theme (this could in theory extend to songs or paintings or bottled ships).The more I wrote the more that feels true. M John Harrison, whose work is uniformly excellent, includes the image of a horse’s skull in almost everything he writes. Stephen King famously includes the number 19 in a variety of places. Why should this be the case?

I’f I’m being honest, (and this is a novelty so I don’t know how well it’ll go) I think the sneaky and underhanded goal of a lot of fiction is to get other people to see the world their way. Via the cunning use of imagination Tolkien demonstrated to millions the brotherhood and companionship that can flourish in times of war, a power so strong that it alone can triumph over adversity. Joseph Heller explained the inherent absurdities of burecracy and authoritairanism by writing one of the most roundabout narratives ever devised, and Stephanie Meyer informed young people about why pre-marital sex is wrong, getting pregnant when you’re young will ruin your life, black people and native americans are basically demons and Roman Catholics are untrustworthy.

There is a danger, if you are aware of this, of slipping into didacticism a.k.a being a wanker. I’ve never written a story from scratch with the intention of making a political or philosophical point, but at the same time I’m aware that my own beliefs do have an influence, even if I’m not aware of it at the time.

Tl;dr,  Gifs!

Marijuana

Why is Peggy so cute goddamn

Pryce audtions for the SCDP amateur production of ‘Whoopsie My Trousers’

You should definitely play Steamshovel Harry.

Gary Busey

25 Aug

First, an apology. I’d written half of this weeks Mad Men post and gotten totally  stuck, to the point where I left it for the next day. The short version is that it started to feel like a chore, and if I don’t enjoy writing it I think it’s reasonable to assume that you won’t enjoy reading it. I’m going to give some time to other, equally deserving television in the next few weeks but for the moment I’m giving up on writing about the show every week.

To compensate, here’s the exact opposite -some trashy bullshit. With the success of the Old Spice Guy, it seems like the tone for contemporary advertising is ‘schizophrenia’

And some bonus Jerry Springer. It’s the KKK, but with midgets!

Orange Juice- Rip It Up

18 Aug

This for all those students out there currently grappling with assignments. New fiction on the weekend.

The Rejected, or ‘The Routine’

17 Aug

This week’s episode is the directorial debut of John Slattery, and ‘The Rejected’ was a resounding success. There weren’t a lot of flashy tricks, which was a good choice considering how tightly structured Mad Men is visually. What Slattery did show was a keen eye for gesture, physical comedy and juxtaposition, and I hope that Slattery gets to do another episode this season (or a guest spot somewhere else) because the thing was a joy to watch. Since there was a lot happening visually this week, there’s a lot more screenshots than usual, so apologies to any poor bastard trying to read this on 56k.

Take the opening shot pictured above. One of the odd things about Mad Men is the disconnect between the way it’s promoted and the actual content of the show, which is in itself kind of ironic. There were complaints that Mad Men was increasing the rates of drinking and smoking due to its extreme coolness. In this scene, Roger and Don have to work through the new laws regarding smoking advertising, one of which is that you can’t shoot the actors from a low angle to make them look superhuman. This occurs 30 seconds after the opening shot, which as you can see does precisely that.

This week Don gets to do something he’s never really tried before, take responsibility for his actions. The fallout from his one-night stand with his secretary was painful to watch, largely because Don was so oblivious to how hurt Allison was that every word he said only made things worse. Sure, with his encroaching alcoholism, unresolved divorce and a dying best friend he has some stuff on this mind, but his hand waving of Allison’s request for a recommendation letter was a low call. The DDFTL is now hovering at zero, and it’s probably going to stay that way until he can bring himself to finish typing that letter. While Don was dealing with the bastard he’s become (or always was), Pete and Peggy got outside the SCDP office for some good old-fashioned character development.

Things Pete and Peggy have in common: they both suck at hide-and-seek.

‘The Rejected’ put a lot of work into drawing a parallel between Pete and Peggy this week, they even went to the trouble of giving them the same colour outfit, and had them do the same action at different points in the episode. As the two youngest main characters on the show (apart from Sally), they’re the most susceptible to the effects of the  rapidly changing world around them. Pete’s dream is to be part of the old guard, the men like Roger and Don who don’t respect him because he’s a sniveling ass. This week he gets everything he wanted- Trudy is pregnant, Cosgrove (in a fun but essentially needless cameo this week) is jealous of him, and he turned through some manipulative finagling he got a big account signed to the firm, thus winning him the respect of the senior partners. Unfortunately, ‘this character fulfilled all their dream and was fine forever’ is not a compelling storyline, so expect something awful to happen to Trudy or for Pete to do something colossally stupid in the coming weeks.

Now it’s time to talk about Peggy. But first, this, because it’s hilarious.

If Pete’s mission is to become part of the old guard, then Peggy’s is to become part of the future. From that first scene with lesbian photo editor Joyce (I know this is terrible stereotyping, but her eyebrows were a giveaway, also the photos of naked ladies, that may also have been a subtle clue) Peggy reacted with confidence and enthusiasm far removed from her date with Kurt back in season two. The party scene was a good indication of how far she’s come, and at the same time the distance between her and her more avant-garde colleagues. Peggy seemed genuinely surprised that they wouldn’t be interested in having their work used for advertising purposes, which I’m willing to put down to naivety. She’s smoked a few joints and been to a warehouse thing , but she’s only part of the counter-culture on a fairly superficial level. While she’s in a much better place than Pete she’s still part of an institution they despise, and as long as that’s the case she’ll only be a very successful outside- much like Don really.

Another telling detail- Don and Peggy both adjust their clothes at the same time when the psychologist walks in the room. She’s great at her job, and that’s what makes her so dangerous to both Peggy and Don. Don rejects the conclusion she comes to as too old-fashioned, and while that might be right his defense comes across as a little too personal, much like it did when he avoided the test back in episode 1. I don’t think Don is going to ask for an appointment any time soon, but she may be around long enough to keep chipping at him until he gives something away. Now for a final piece of clever (if a little direct) composition.

Pete and Peggy, separated by a glass wall. Peggy leaves with the cool kids to go harass Warhol and discover LSD, while Pete is inside, now a member of the inner circle he’s dreamed of for so long. Careful what you wish for and all that jazz.

Next week is “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”. Maybe something about Don as a failed knight-in-shining-armour?

Yeasayer- Madder Red

15 Aug

They had to go and use finicky bullshit and upload it to the Guardian website, but Yeasayer are three for three for Odd Blood videos.