Saturday, 10 January 2015

Geriatric Backpacker

I feel I've been left behind a bit here.  My dad has just last month decided to start blogging!  I on the other hand stopped blogging over a year ago.  Dichotomy!

Having recently returned from a trip through Europe, there are probably some things to say!  But for now, pretty photos:



So my ideal for a holiday is to go around in luxury, but then do as many potentially life threatening things as possible between resorts.

My dad on the other hand is going for something a bit more hardcore.  So follow his 500km travail... I mean travel, across Hungary at his new blog, Geriatric Backpacker!

Friday, 9 January 2015

BioShock Infinite - Gameplay vs Story

So I almost finished writing this ages ago, specifically one day before this video came out:

And it says everything I wanted to say, only in cool video form, so uhmm, go watch that... But I figured I wrote enough I might as well put it up anyway.

With the Easter long weekend came another opportunity to play a game start to finish in a short period! The game of choice on this occasion was BioShock Infinite (Sinfinite as it shall now be known).

If I were to choose one game to compare Sinfinite to overall, it wouldn't be Bioshock or even System Shock 2, but Spec Ops: The Line.  This might seem an odd comparison, but the main thing that stood out for me about both games isn't the plot, the characters, the twists or even the game play, but it is how the game play in both cases seemed to just get in the way of everything else.

I stumbled around with this concept in writing my review of Spec Ops but could only put my finger on the fact that the game wasn't that fun; which seemed to distract both from the story (I was bored waiting for the next plot event to happen) and the overall message of the game (i.e. "You shouldn't be having so much fun killing people," well I wasn't...)

Now that another game (that I have played) has come and done the same thing, I've started to see what is actually going on here.

A couple of people have discussed this to some degree already.  Chris Plante from Polygon wrote a piece titled "Opinion: Violence limits BioShock Infinite's audience — my wife included".  While I don't agree with his premise - that violence specifically is the problem - his point that all the violent game play seems to be utterly out of place in the context of the game is entirely correct.

Similarly this video from Youtuber MrBtongue, which came out before Shinfinite, also talks about violence in games, but gets a bit closer to the point.  Or at least to my point.

Be warned; ahead there will be Sinfinite spoilers.  So many spoilers.  Terrible, game destroying spoilers.  If you read ahead your life as you know it will be spoiled beyond recognition, you will develop a shock of grey hair and a haunted look that will stay with you until the end of time.

SPOILERS AHEAD - You might die.

Sinfinite is a decent game, the endless 10 out of 10 reviews may have indicated that to you already. I can only assume such good reviews came from people who haven't played System Shock 2 or simply "Want to Believe" that gaming has actually developed in a meaningful way over the last 10 to 15 years.

To start with the good, Sinfinite looks amazing. The art, level design, characters, theme, everything is outstanding. It's a world you want to explore and learn more about. The opening scene gets you right into the curious mindset of wanting to know what the hell is going on, why are you there, what is this place?

Finally you get up to the scene where you choose who to throw the baseball at and you are spotted as the "false shepherd." Then you kill people for 14 hours. Then there is an awesome ending that messes with your head! The end.

And herein lies the problem. Sinfinite is ostensibly a game trying to tell a really cool story in an awesome and immersive world. For some reason though it also wants to be a mindless shooter with endless hordes of enemies spawning out of nowhere and slowing your progress through the story.

Because I am not small, fluffy kitten, I don't have a problem with violence in media.  Movies and games where people get dismembered, eaten, burnt; dismembered, burnt and then eaten, and then the person who ate them gets dismembered, eaten, burnt, flayed, puréed, with bacon and peanut butter sauce... Wait, what was I saying?

Okay. I don't really have a problem with violence in my entertainment. If you think your four year old daughter might have trouble sleeping after watching Kill Bill, I'd advise not letting her watch it.  I'm wise that way. But violence is and always has been a fact of life and while in some movies (the so called "torture porn" genre, like Saw, The Human Centipede and so on) it is plainly just there to be sick, in a lot of movies it is either funny (Commando!) or poignant (Pan's Labyrinth - that movie still haunts me), or just generally awesome (The Matrix).

But you'll note I'm naming movies here and not games. This is a bad sign.

Games have developed in many ways over the years, but in some ways they appear to have been utterly stagnant since the late 90s, around the time of Half Life and System Shock 2. First of all, and entirely unrelated to this discussion, why does Half Life still have the best enemy AI of any first person shooter before or since?  Just sayin'.

But looking at games as an artistic medium, what has been going on over the last 10-15 years? Well what is a game, or specifically what is a computer game? To wrap all games into a single category is senseless. It would be like comparing Dances With Wolves to a porno filmed by a pair of 40 year old crack addicts.  There are different classes of movies, as there are different classes of games (and books too!)

The first kind of computer game is just a game, plain and simple. There is no story (or no story of relevance) there is simply some kind of challenge for you to partake in. Games like pong, SimCity, Civilization and so on are obviously in this category (though you can argue in the latter games you make your own story). In fact the number of games that fall into this category are quite large, yes Mario, Doom, Quake and so on have some kind of plot, but the purpose of those games is a fun challenge, the plot is a bonus.

There is also a different kind of game though. The story driven game. These have been around a long time, Zork, Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment.  The gameplay is still core to the experience, if you don't like Dungeons and Dragon's gameplay you can't enjoy the story of BG2.  But a large part of the motivation to play isn't just the challenge, but the story.  In fact in Torment the challenge largely is the story, in that you can play through the entire game without any combat, just conversation.

The problem comes in though, where over the last 10-15 years there has been very little development on the integration of these two points, gameplay and story. Computer games are an artistic medium.  They can incorporate the video of a movie, the writing of a book and allow you to interact with them. In theory they are the ultimate story telling device. So why aren't they?

Half Life and System Shock 2 are games that really leaped ahead in this area.  Half Life was predominantly a fun shooter, but anyone who has played it will say that the story really drew them into the game and made it far more fun. The story was an important part of the game and it was told through the gameplay. The story never distracted you from playing the game and playing the game never seemed to get in the way of progressing in the story, playing the game was progressing the story and playing the game was fun.

System Shock 2 leaned a bit more the other way, the story was key to the entire experience. As a shooter the game was actually rather poor, but the style of game play complemented the story and environment so well that rather than thinking "damn this is slow and clunky next to Half Life" your thoughts are "OH MY GOD I'M ABOUT TO RUN OUT OF AMMO AND DIE!!!"  It was an outstanding combination and a more engrossing game than any of the Shocks since.

But then what? Where is the advancement since then?  COD4 had a few nice set pieces but I can't say I remember any of the story. And since then? What?

Well there are two answers to that question.
Shinfinite and The Walking Dead.

The two games show two different directions games are (or at least could be) going in.

The Walking Dead is a game I absolutely love, in fact I consider it one of the best games I've ever played... Only it isn't really a game. In fact it has taken the story driven game to the final level, where the interaction with the game is not about giving you a challenge, a game, but more about involving you emotionally in the story.  It is an amazing cross between the experience of watching a movie and playing a game, that gets you just involved enough in what is going on to experience the story far more intensely, without pausing the story while you try to figure out some puzzle for half an hour.

So The Walking Dead basically shows what is possible with interactive media, but stops trying to be an actual game and instead just aims to tell a story in the most engrossing way possible.

I'd love to see more games (or whatever you might call them) like this. Yes I know point and click adventures have been around forever, but anyone who has played TWD and others will know the difference. However I'd also like to see great games with awesome stories in the future too.

Shinfinite is sadly not an example of this. It takes some really cool characters, a really cool plot and ending, an amazing world, and then dumps it on a generic, boring FPS that drags the story out over 10-14 hours. Just like Spec Ops. And no where near on par with System Shock 2 or Half Life as a whole.

I don't understand the 10/10 reviews Shinfinite has been getting and I can only assume they are from people who love the story and world so much they had to rate it high or who have simply never played Shock 2.

And here we abruptly end...

Monday, 25 March 2013

Update on Awesome

I have a terrible fear that haunts me to my very core that someone may miss out on something awesome, and it would be my fault!  I can't have this, and so I present this update of awesome things that you may have missed in recent times.

First of all, Game of Thrones season 3 is out in a matter of days!

This is possibly the best TV series ever made and season 3 looks to be insanely epic.  If you haven't started watching the show yet, grab season 1 and 2 and catch up before it is too late!

Also while waiting you can watch, School of Thrones!

If that isn't enough to make you run around in the streets naked singing praise to the heavens, then check this out:

Kick Ass 2 is actually a real thing!  It will be out this year!  Kick Ass is one of my all time favourite movies and I expect the sequel to live up to the name.

I know by now you've probably been panting so hard with excitement that you passed out.  But for those still going, here is something awesome, but a bit less over the top exciting to cool you off a bit.

Downton Abbey:
Have you seen this show yet?  I don't really know how to show its merits with a mere video clip or quote, but it is something you must see!

Here are some amusing parts with my favourite character, but it just isn't the same without the context of the show!

I'm afraid you don't get to "not like" Downton Abbey.  It's not a matter of opinion, there are those who like it, and those who are wrong.  It is the only current show that competes with Game of Thrones for the awesome crown.

Ultimately it comes down to how well done the characters are.  Their attitudes, motivations, actions and so on are all consistent and believable and it makes for a show that is somehow slow paced and yet constantly enthralling.  Genius!

This guy pushed his girlfriend off a cliff!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

St. Ali North - Cafe Review


So I was meeting a friend for lunch last week and she promised me a "Totally rad cafe that's so fancy I have at least one word I don't understand in every menu item description!" and in house cured bacon! After I finished peeing myself with excitement (we're talking a good 16 hours here) I got to the cafe!

There are words you are supposed to use to describe places like this, but I'm not up with the lingo. I feel it's something like "chic" or "trendy" or "consecrated" or something.  The point is I could have entered through the window without comment. There's also a "ride through" section, which sounds fun, if morally questionable...

I really need to work on my photography (that is to say iPhone) skills. Specifically I need to remember to take out the phone and take photos of more than just half my plate.

My plate! (With stuff on it!)

Friday, 15 March 2013

I Think I've Been Busy

The last few weeks have been rather whelming.  Not quite overwhelming, but there was some whelming action for sure. I have failed in my duty to update my blog and for that I am shamed. I was shamed.  I'm over it.

No wait... No, it's cool.

One factor of this whelming was something which I think is pretty damn cool and so shall share with all of you, my dearest readers!  Seriously, if a writer writes something in the forest and there is no one there to read it, is he really wearing a hat?  A question for the sages.

Anyway after retiring my dad decided to start a new business in an area that has a lot of experience with - travel. I'm reasonably well travelled, having been to 19 different countries, but he's been to something like 30 or more, and far more often than I have.

So for the last few weeks I've been helping make a basic website for his business, Bon Vivant Euro Tours (Bon Vivant is French for "good living"). We'll move it to its proper domain once it is fully ready to go live, but for now it's just on the Weebly address.
The first tour is going to be held across Hungary! A country that isn't yet well known for its tourism, but we'll see what we can do about that.  It's an epic 24 day journey across the nation to really get to know the culture, food and history.  What is there to see in Hungary?

And real rivers!  Not these little creeks like the Yarra!

So check out the site, the Tour Info section is mostly done, I'll update the links once the proper domain is set up and we should have pricing and so on by then too.

We hope to return to usual broadcasting next week!

No wait, I just remembered. I went to a new cafe today.  I had bacon ice cream. I'll have to write this up ASAP.  BACON!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Mama Bear - Cafe Review

I have engorged myself at a new cafe, Mama Bear!  Now I must share my findings with the world or all shall perish!

First, I must say I was disappointed that there was no "bear" in the menu.  I felt a bit cheated.  I expected a large, hairy man covered in blood to come to my table with a knife and demand "YOU WANT HEART OR EYEBALL?!"  My life should have felt threatened.  It didn't, and I was less for it.

Alternatively it could have involved a caged battle with a bear for your food.  You enter and Mama Bear, "Tiffany" is behind the counter.  Wild with rage at being captured, she stands between you and your meal behind her.  "YOU MUST FIGHT TO THE DEATH PEASANT SCUM!" announces an unseen voice as you take up your small dagger and charge forth!

The reality was that I walked in and was seated at a table near other people by a lady.  She smiled.  I didn't feel my life threatened even once.  I'd hoped maybe she was luring me into a false sense of security, but nothing came of it.

So I figured I'd have to get past the name and just make the most of my time at the new cafe.

Mama Bear opened around the start of February in the remains of Tres Tacos.  They've cleaned the place up nicely, it's bright and open and quite large with a decent amount of outside dining space.  As far as I know it's the only decent cafe in that part of Flemington.  Of course Union rd. and Pin Oak Cres. are both very close, but that small area has never really been a "food" place until now.

Parking looks troublesome, but Racecourse rd., just past the cafe (away from the roundabout) actually tends to have plenty of spaces available during the day.

I'll have to try the waffles some time, but considering I was looking for the RAW MEAT AND BONE OF A FRESHLY SLAIN BEAR, I figured I needed something more substantial.  So I got the Big Breakfast.  They have all day breakfast!

This is breakfast!

It was pretty damn epic.  Excellent eggs, crispy bacon, really tasty sausages and relish.  I approve.

The single origin latte (I think it was El Salvador...) was also great.

Service was friendly and quite fast.  They even gave me my coffee at no charge just because they forgot the first time I asked for it.

I'll definitely be adding this place to my regular cycle of cafes, and perhaps suggest they consider hiring a bear to viciously and brutally eat customers who lack the strength and dignity to stand and fight for the food that is rightfully theirs! They probably won't go for it, but I'd be remiss in not trying.

I rate this cafe four out of five bears... I will up it to a full five when they get a bear.

Mama Bear on Urbanspoon