Attention, all three of my readers. I’m now attempting more regular blogging over at my new Tumblr page. It’s something of a dumping ground for random links, pictures and half-thoughts, but it’ll be updated a whole lot more frequently than this place – which is, to all intents and purposes, now deaded.
Oof, long time. I’ve got a bunch of original writing I keep wanting to post here, but, as with so many things in my life, I lack the time and energy. One day…
Meantime, I post regularly on Twitter. Often about cats, often about games, sometimes about kissing and sometimes about biscuits. Follow me do.
(I’m too tired to think of a non-prosaic title. Sorry.)
It’s been, as always, a while – if someone were assessing my career based only on this blog, they’d think I was only writing about one article every two months and was starving to death. Actually, I’m generally horrifically busy, which I should really be more grateful for. I am starving to death though, but that’s because cooking and eating seems such an enormous hassle. Someone please invent the food pill.
For now, here’s a few word-farts from the last couple of months.
Decided to rescue the below from languishing in the middle of a post about a demo over on RPS, as a) it was a damn silly place to leave it and b) I want to remind myself to make something more of it sometime.
“… I’m stupidly pleased that Feign Death is back [in Unreal Tournament 3], having been absent in Unreal Tournament 2k3/4. Why? Storytime!
Back in around 1999, after eating some Hot Cross Buns diligently garnished with a brain-affecting plant extract that’s more commonly inhaled, my best friend and I hauled our PCs into the same room and rigged up a serial connection to play original UT deathmatch against each other. After half an hour of our chemically-altered reaction times not making for a particularly adrenaline-fuelled match, I thought it would be really, really funny to hit Feign Death. So I hit F, crumpled to the ground and lay there for what seemed like a couple of minutes, until my mate, slightly frustrated at not being able to find me, eventually ran over my ‘corpse’, at which point I unfeigned death and started spraying bullets at him, causing him to scream and really, actually fall off his chair.
We both laughed long and hard for some time, and then happened to glance at the clock. I realised that, as a result of the slight time distortion effect that can come with imbibing the substance in question, I’d in fact been feigning death for almost an hour. My equally addled friend had, during this time, become accustomed to being in an apparently empty map, and had in fact run past my prostrate avatar dozens of times already by that point – hence the screaming when it suddenly rose up and started shooting at him. We then also realised we’d been very loudly playing Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell on repeat for the entire duration, and the neighbours really weren’t happy about it. Slightly embarrassed about it all, we went out for snacks, only to find that someone had for some reason crossed out the name of every sandwich in the shop and scribbled ‘Ewok’ onto the front of the packet instead. So we came home, ate Ewok sandwiches and played more UT until we both basically passed out at our keyboards.
My best friend passed away unexpectedly two years ago. That night of extreme confusion and Unreal Tournament is one of my fondest memories of him. And that’s why I’m glad Feign Death is back.”
JJ – the friend in question – and I grew up together as gamers. Both of us lacked the cash/parental goodwill to indulge in the Amigas and NESes everyone else seemd to have in the earlier years of secondary school, and so we tumbled into Spectrums and BBC Micros instead. We seemed backwards to our ever-mocking peers, but we were positively drowning in casette and floppy copies of games at a time when everyone else was stuck saving up for the latest Zelda. I didn’t start writing about games until about 2001 (and writing well about games until about 2007), but playing Double Dragon and Chuckie Egg together (and there were far more games we each simply watched the other one play) was instrumental in bumping gaming into my premiere hobby.
We didn’t go to the same university due to some half-thought-out teenage boy-man sense that we should each stand on our two feet, and I’ll always regret that. The gaming continued nonetheless – both of us had PCs by that point, so would swap CD-Rs full of treats with each other whenever we met up. One of those was UT, and a visit to his student house one Summer the source of the above anecdote. Post-uni, JJ became a far worthier man than I – a teacher by trade, and an astonishingly proactive individual both socially and personally. Even his death reflected that – he collapsed in the gym, in training for a sponsored walk of the country’s length. The coroner was never able to find a cast-iron cause, but believes he had an irregular heartbeat as a result of an earlier viral infection. I’m a little too close to saying something stupidly saccharine like “he died as he lived” there. Let’s just say he lived a lot in only a quarter of a century. Me, I plonked myself in front of a monitor around 2001 and pretty much just stayed there. That’s damaged me in a lot of ways, most recently playing a significant part in my breaking up with my girlfriend of seven years. I need to keep JJ in mind if I’m going to change my ways. He wasn’t an intellectual inspiration to me in the way a number of my current friends are, but he’s the only person I know/knew who gave me a strong sense of how I should treat life.
In the couple of years preceding that, he didn’t do much gaming anymore – it was understandably secondary to these nobler pursuits. Not that long before he passed away, he expressed disappointment that I was still labouring away in games/tech journalism rather than moving onto something bigger. I was a little offended; there was enough about that career which I enjoyed to want to stay in it (this was before a couple of promotions pushed me too far into the managerial aspect of magazines, which is why I’m freelance these day), but I also knew I’d never be able to live up to his expectations. He was a better man than I, pure and simple. I also knew our shared gaming history was pretty much over, and that was a little sad.
That said, I’m pretty sure he’d have gotten a kick out of some of the stuff I’m writing about on RPS. The sort of wry, single-idea indie games that are so in vogue would have tickled him, and I like to think he’d have respected the more narrative pieces I occasionally wheel out. It may still have been about games, but at least I was writing, not simply reviewing. I wish he’d seen it, that I could have proven to him I wasn’t going to spend my life going nowhere on a PC magazine.
Anyways. Flecked with nostaglic sorrow or not, that night of feigning death in UT pretty much sums up what I’m always looking for from games, and also the reason JJ was my best mate from age 9 to 26. Some day, I’ll write it up properly – and somewhere that matters, not in a post about a demo.
Not a lot to link to, as most of my stuff of late seems to have been exclusively print or on RPS.
However, here’s my review of The Club for PC Gamer, which I expected some web-hate for but don’t seem to have gotten as yet. A pessimist is never disappointed, but he can unsettled by anti-climax.
Anyway, today is my birthday, an event I’m failing to summon up any sort of significant feeling towards, so I shall attempt to rectify that by briefly and vaguely chattering here. Upon hearing that I’ve just turned 29, various friends, relations and those few people whose tedium has yet to reach the level where I’m actively ignoring them, proffer the expected “ooh, nearly 30 eh?”, and make intimations about death and frailty and retiring to a house in the country. Well, okay. I’ve been feeling like I’m about 40 since I was about 20, so the physical and mental repercussions of late youth barely trouble me.
The only thing that does is sense of/ lack of achievement. I’m surrounded, for the most part, by writers of one sort of another, many of whom are penning books or comics or journalism outside of games and technology, or leaving for well-paid jobs in the city, or simply earning a fortune by being more organised and committed than I. Me, I’m still in rented accommodation, fudging self-employment, earning a reasonable keep from reviews and features for the largely the same magazines I wrote for when I was in full-time employment, and still unable to own a cat (which is possibly all I actually want from life). I’m still waiting for the great leap forwards. Notably, I’m not actually doing any leaping myself, so I know full well where the blame lies.
That said, I can look at where I am on my 29th birthday against where I was on my 28th, and feel slightly better about things. RPS seems enormously respected, even if it’s earned basically zero, so my standing in the industry is presumably improved somewhat. Forced to write more regularly on a more analytical level than straight reviews, I also have a vague sense of being a little bit smarter about videogames; I hope that’s ongoing.
I’m still offered work regularly, whereas last February my plan was, should this new life not be working out come September, to knock freelance on the head and go back to university or chop down trees for a living or something. Perhaps more importantly, I’m now past the 18 months of mild insanity that saw me inexplicably collecting plastic robots. Though I dread whatever minor, worthless obsession will next consume me.
Whoops – I totally forgot about this place. I’m not sure I have the requisite motivation to be a blogging polygamist.
Anyway, largely for my own reference, here’s some stuff wot I have wrote lately:
A preview of Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance
A review of Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (in which I go to desperate lengths to shoehorn in the introductory anecdote)
A review of Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
A review of Warhammer 40,000: Squad Commander
A preview of Pirates of the Burning Sea
A review of Timeshift
A review of Sega Rally
There’s also a review of The Witcher up on PC Gamer’s site, but I’d really rather no-one read that,thankyewverymuch. Note to self: demand a deadline extension the next time someone tells you to review a 70-hour-long RPG, and run away if they won’t give you one.
I do stand by the score (67%, miscontrued by many as being a shoeing, despite working out as a 7 if you mark out of 10) – in a game that’s largely based around people talking at you at length, what they say needs to a) make sense and b) not sound as though they’re hopelessly addled on industrial-strength methadone. The write-up’s not my finest hour though, and that’s made defending my corner trickier than it usually is for a contentious review. The angry fans I’ve encountered are apparently so pleased by this being the first relatively deep and adult PC RPG in quite some time that they’re able to shrug off its staggering array of flaws, most especially in the writing/translation department. While I’m glad folk are digging it (it does do some stuff well and it’s got genuine ambition), unfortunately I’m incapable of enjoying time spent in a world with dialogue that terrible. But to the craziest of the crazies, the only possible explanation can be that I’m inexperienced, unprofessional and hate all RPGs. Thanks, crazies.
And now, in honour of the birth of Santa, I’m taking some time off from playing games for money. Instead, I’m going to play them for fun. It’s been a while. First up: Mass Effect.
Y’know, it’s great that Eurogamer’s justified desire to be completist means they wanted a review of this add-on for a game no-one, quite understandably, bothered playing.
But the (at the time of writing) 13 comments on the review is reasonably depressing. Curse me for a fool for playing it straight. I should probably have gone with an entirely fabricated look-at-me argument, like is this really an RTS or why it means a rennaisance in pastel colours in PC games. Sigh. It’s always tricky to be writing to a prescribed, small audience, and not a large, curious one.
Which sounds much better than Settlers: Generic Collection of Words Usually Used In RTS titles.
Anyway, here’s some words about why it might be good. I’m currently reviewing it, as it happens, and now worry that my initial optimism was ill-founded. It’s a cold day in hell when I am optimistic about something, so expect the last remaining scraps of cheer in my soul to evaporate if it isn’t any good.
If Walker’s easily prone to tears, my own emotional foible is being governed by extreme worry. Paranoia, even. This may be evident by the occasional panic in this feature I wrote a while back for PC Gamer UK, which has just been lobbed online.
‘Are Games Killing Us?’ is the question it poses. “Yes, but slowly and horribly” is the reasonably inevitable answer. For a good couple of weeks as and after I researched this piece, I couldn’t sit at a PC for more than ten minutes without having to stand up and nervously pace about the room, until the imagined leaden feeling in my legs that definitely, definitely meant I was doing to die of Deep-Vein Thrombosis subsided.
By way of illustration, here is a picture of a dead man in a game.
1) Currently absent from this online version are the boxouts about how to stop yourself suffering these terrible fates, both by living better and -woo – by playing the right games. They’re an important counter-balance to the worrying of the main feature, and you can read ’em by buying the current issue of PC Gamer. They’ve got advice in by people who, unlike me, understand how the human body works.
2) PCG specifically requested it kicked off with the tale of That Korean Guy Who Died In A LAN Cafe. They’ve got a lot of good reasons for it, which I respect entirely. It’s just that, if I’d been publishing the piece, say, here, I’d probably have started off on a pretty different tack.
Finally, if it seems to be coming on a little strong, well, there’s a reason for that. We’re the first generation that’s really living in this way, and until the genuine physical effects of it in the long-term are firmly established, I’d say us pathetic creatures of meat and bone really should play it safe.
The PC Gamer online / CVG / Games Radar oddness continues, with a Devil’s Advocate I wrote for PC Gamer on mouse versus gamepad chucked up on CVG. But not on PC Gamer. So, released solely to an audience not familiar with the tongue-in-cheek concept of this Gamer regular (the clue’s in the name), the guys in the comments thread, completely oblivious that I’m screwing with them, are pretty hilarious in their outrage.
My only real concern is that it’s up on CVG because someone there thought it was a serious discussion of the issue. It’s really not.