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Posts tagged “Rant

Studying Video Essays

I’m a great proponent of the internet as a tool for delivering easy to digest learning materials, and yes, YouTube is awash with exactly the kind of tools I’m talking about.

Movies especially have an abundance of video essayists who talk at length about films and the film industry, taking wildly different approaches to the art form. Nerdwriter is a current favourite, whose short discussions that may dissect a single scene in a film, deeply explore a particular technique, or occasionally delve into a different topic. Lindsay Ellis does extensive studies that delve deep into the industry, historical relevance of certain creative choices, or shed light on some behind the scenes processes you might not have heard about before. The Closer Look, Every Frame a Painting, Lessons from the Screenplay, there are many of incredible students of film out to share their thoughts and insights.

For academia in general, Kurzgesagt, CGP Gray, some of the extra vlogbrothers content like SciShow; for literature Tale Foundry, and to an extent Terrible Writing Advice; for tabletop RP, Monarchs Factory, Matt Colville; these are the talking heads, the voices of people who have learned enough to want to share and impart what wisdom they can. Though most of it is heavily slanted by the perspective of the author/essayist/YouTuber in question, most strive for an objective approach and back their opinions with research or extensive experience.

I have been spending vast portions of every day studying the talking-head genre, because some time before the end of this month I’m hoping to put my own videos out there. Not something you’d think I’d consider too difficult, I’ve written 500-2000 word articles twice a week, almost every week, plus Top 10 entries, and most of those have been released on time (here, the author coughs by way of acknowledgement that this does not include today’s piece). I also like talking, especially to an audience, be it a half dozen gamers sat at a table, or a hundred or so gamers who are fool enough to want to listen to my opinions.

So where’s the hang-up?

First of all, a moment of gaming the algorithms on YouTube, what I need to produce has to last for ten minutes. After some experimentation playing around with an autocue generator, I’m estimating a minimum of 2000 words, and I – unfortunately – have a tendency to write concisely, too concisely. So it has been a lesson in padding and drawing out subjects without making it dull listening. This also presumes a script, which I’ll come to momentarily.

Second… talking to a microphone is a world apart from talking to an audience. I invested in a moderate quality microphone, poor audio quality is a killer for videos like this and frankly my webcam was proving inadequate. But here this thing sits… glaring at me, unresponsive. As someone who – by necessity – feeds off the reactions of the audience to inform the content, a microphone is a maddeningly passive audience.

Do I improvise, or do I script in full? I know there are plenty of talking-heads who do one, the other, or both. In my early attempts I tried to strike a balance, writing my script as if it were a D&D game plan, a few notes on talking points, a rough idea what I want to talk about and when, enough to structure without being restrictive, but I learned afterwards that I have a maddening idiosyncrasy that makes editing that style of essay impossible: when I’m thinking, I draw out syllables so that the space in between is almost non-existent. So effort two reads straight from a script, and, while better, I find I stumble over the words that I have written. I entered into the idea thinking it would be the perfect for someone who enjoys talking as much as I do, and here I find I’m learning to talk all over again.

When I put down my keyboard I’ll be trying again, and again, to get this right, possibly trying a few other approaches. I write purely to vent, this is a topic on which there are a thousand answers, none of which right for everyone, it falls within the category of “practice making perfect” and “finding what is right for you”.

I’ll be back when I have a right answer.

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Retail Rant: The Magic Brother-In-Law

I recently handed in my notice to go full time in the professional Dungeon Master-y gig; it’s going well. And with my new found freedom, there is a rant I have been meaning to share with you.  A simple formula of words that will guarantee your friendly electrical retailer will immediately hate you, with a passion.

My [relative] works in [pertinent field], he/she will [perform service].

For example:

My Brother-In-Law works with computers, he’ll sort it out for me.

Allow me to tell you why you are wrong, and also a bad person. (more…)


Doom Annihilation – A Most Ominous Trailer

Remember how I was pretty vocally optimistic about the future of video games and film. Remember how I thought Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed had some major positive points that made me feel like there might be hope? What I didn’t tell you is that I actually quite enjoyed the new Tomb Raider film, thought it was alright. I started to feel like there was hope, a genuine upward swing, and hell, I even said as much in the comments of my Captain Marvel review.

Then my dear friend Mike sends me this: (more…)


Why Chris Hates Monopoly

I admit that the title is a bit like clickbait, but I think it’s about time that I spoke about just how I feel about Monopoly as a game. This post will, of course, include a very strong opinion as already stated in the title, so if you’re not a fan of opinionated posts then we have plenty more articles you can read. Also, unlike your average clickbait article, I’m not going to wait until the end of the article to explain why the game has achieved the status of hatred with me. Buckle up, this might get bumpy.

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Apps: A Notification of Distraction?

Tech is amazing, no matter what a detractor might say to the contrary. Every day, I wake up and check my phone to see all of the updates that came overnight. 60 emails, 10 Twitter notifications, 2 text messages and 6 personal Facebook notifications, not including the GeekOut specific ones. But in a world that’s constantly connected, sometimes, it can feel like all of this tech has turned into one big distraction.

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Patreon: An Angry Rant

These days, it’s oh so easy to exploit people who read your website. Like a well published newspaper, your website runs like clockwork. So clearly then, you deserve the very best from your readers, as you provide them oh so many days, weeks, months of content. Ah give me a break, we’ve come so far and yet the greedy remain greedy, but the seriously hard working can get the reward they deserve. Patreon provides the hard working with a really stable platform to get paid for their work; however it’s also opened up a very lazy type of person. In this article, I’ll talk to you about Mr. X – An account I saw on Patreon whose name I have obfuscated so I’m not calling them out, but rather the attitude they have.

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Zack Snyder

Ok, this one has been building for a while. I’m tired tonight, so now is the time. The internet is – after all – a place where we are all free to go off on a good, healthy rant. I encourage anyone to disagree with me, I love to get into those kinds of discussions and this is definitely a matter of personal opinion, but tonight is a soap-box night, I am in that kind of mood.

Learning About Directors

When I was young I was foolish enough to follow films based entirely on the basis of their lead actors. It took some time to figure out that that was one of the worst ways of picking my viewing material, and never was that summed up better than in Public Enemies which came out shortly after I left university. My journey into discovering directors started fairly stereotypically for a kid of 17, with Tim Burton.

Now Tim Burton is an excellent start, he has an excellent sense of pacing, an art style that blends childish wonder with pulp or gothic horror, and characters that are either adequately deep to be likeable and interesting, or so brilliantly caricatured in their single aspect that they are loveable for their disgusting comedic value. Excuses can be made for his over-fondness for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (they’re good at what they do, and they all work well together) and his increasingly clichéd style because he has found a formula that suits him, that he enjoys, and if you can’t enjoy what you do then why do it at all?

Held against Stephen Spielberg, I found that Spielberg’s style was to fill a film with a great deal of nothing that somehow built up to a memorable spectacle. To this day I don’t remember anything that happened in E.T. or any of the Indiana Jones films. The first Jurassic Park left me with several amazing scenes and memorable moments but so help me I can’t remember how anything got resolved, what order anything happened in, and what the story of either sequel was. I could not see the appeal, still can’t.

Rapidly I started finding those things that drew me into a film, artistic choices, editing decisions, characterization and proper pacing. I also found a lot of directors that I disliked.

300 – 2006

This isn’t exactly a film. This is a special effects real with some excellent one-liners that really did take the internet by storm, but as a film it’s kind of pathetic. Dialogue is highly noticeable in it’s absence, monologues are strung together with narrative exposition mixed with visual spectacle and anachronistic music. Fight scenes are visceral, but really just a series of stances mixed with blood-spatter, and as for an actual storyline…

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There are some excellent names attached to this film, chief amongst them Gerard Butler who delivers a superb performance, Michael Fassbender who never disappoints, and Lena Headey! Lena Headey is an amazingly powerful woman reduced to a rather tragic victim, whose only response to allegations I shall summarize as “sexual misconduct” by a manipulative traitor is to stab him and inadvertently reveal his treachery.

Here was my first introduction to the name Zack Snyder. And while everyone around me raved and glorified this overblown showreel for the visual effects team, which – for the record – kudos to them all, they created something spectacular. Snyder created a new toy for the internet to play with, and his catalogue only worsened.

Watchmen – 2009

Here’s a film of two halves. It builds a world of heroes rather elegantly and defines a dynamic between them, they have personality that’s intensely human, flawed and real, with their own unique reasons for turning to heroism – responsibility, hereditary identity, a war they can’t leave behind, or a power that must be used responsibly. Alan Moore’s premise is superb, I don’t particularly like him as a person but the messages in his comics are strong and often necessary.

watchmen-image

In steps the big sparkly hammer of Snyder, leaping in to descend in slow motion, bringing with it glorified – even sexualized violence, a lot of exposition and monologuing, and weird pacing. Twists turn into leaps of logic, plot vanishes under the weight of spectacle, and once again I’m wondering why everyone is so excited. Is it because Rorschach looks awesome, or because Dr. Manhattan is the first godlike superhero that wasn’t completely stupid? Or could it have been some other facet of Dr. Manhattan?

Sucker Punch – 2011

Beautiful trailers, a cast of actresses that had me hooked, and a fantasy world that lacked some consistency perhaps but included some seriously epic spectacles. Why then was I immediately filled with dread at the sight of the name Zack Snyder, after watching a mere two films.

Urgh.

URGH!

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Way to gloss over a sensitive subject with a series of disjointed and pointlessly flashy vignettes under the guise of what? A sloppy metaphor? Storyline goes out of the window once and for all, the conclusion is a tragedy out of place in a carnival of fantastic and excellently displayed fight scenes and adventures. I don’t doubt for one moment that Snyder was trying to address something as delicate as abuse, but to do so with skimpy outfits better placed in a fan-service heavy anime series?

Characters might have had a solitary dimension but under the single-colour wash and particle effects it became difficult to tell one from another. I recall reading – I think it was an Empire article – definitions between the characters and how they each differed in personality, I read it with some anticipation, then I watched and waited, and it was nowhere to be seen.

Man of Steel – 2013

How does this happen?

According to imdb, Snyder has two director credits to his name prior to picking up the Dawn of the Dead remake, suddenly there are blockbuster productions lining up? I reiterate, how does he do it, someone please explain this to me.

In the same way Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige have creative control over the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems Snyder now has the same power over DC’s floundering attempt to keep pace.

Batman-V-Superman-600x300

I needn’t list all the reasons I disliked Man of Steel, simply spot the patterns in the list above, they’re all there. Others have covered the other failures of this film, storyline errors and logical flaws that were fairly obvious, but for me I simply couldn’t overcome the director.

Wrapping up: I may have mentioned this dozens of times across a battery of other articles, but I have not and can not enjoy a Zack Snyder film without switching off every part of my brain not entirely devoted to watching pretty lights – actually the same parts I have to switch off in a J.J. Abrams film (although it sounds like his future projects will be somewhat less “sparkly”) – and I simply can’t keep demeaning myself like this.

So I exhale deeply, having relieved myself of my outrage I turn to you. I beg of you, find me a redeeming feature, disagree with me, tell me if I’m missing some flash of brilliance that has gone past me.


Hearthstone – Balance

One of the major draws of a good card game is the balance of the card game. This article will come off as sour grapes, but damn it there is an obvious balance issue going on here! Within balance, there are several really important aspects to pay attention to. You have to be fair to new players by giving them a deck that doesn’t necessarily reward them for having just common and uncommon cards, but at least gives them a relatively fair footing.

With this in mind, I recently started to play Hearthstone again, a brilliant card game by Blizzard Entertainment. My problem is however, it had been several months since I had last truly picked the game up and I felt as if I had been left eating dust that has been collected up behind all of these monstrous new cards around the place. I even had a 9 match losing streak.

Hearthstone_Logo

A friend of mine introduced me to the newest cards, these Mech cards which were incredibly powerful. They had an ability called Spare Parts on some of them, which gave different effects dependent on the card. But the thing that infuriated me is that it felt, perhaps wrongly, that some of the core mechanics had been changed (even if it was just slightly.)

I play Hearthstone as a Shaman and in the past, I used to be alright at it. I used to get as far as Rank 10-12 with relative ease. This time however, I picked up and turn 2 comes around – the Hunter in front of me uses The Coin, a well known card which is given for free to the second player… and on turn 2, he summons a Random animal which happens to be a 4/4 with taunt.

Misha(593)_Gold

On turn 1, he summoned one of these dreaded Spare Parts. For 1 mana, he had a 2/1 (not so unfair) but then he also gained one of these Spare Parts cards when that minion died. The Spare Part he received was a card that, again for 1 mana, allowed him to return a minion to his hand. But how is that fair? How something like that happen so easily… and normally?

This isn’t to say there aren’t immensely overpowered cards in Magic: the Gathering, either. I know there are ridiculously overpowered cards but the official tournaments set up by Wizards of the Coast at least bans those cards from competitive play. One of the problems Hearthstone has for me is that, so long as you have the card, you can play it.

So for 3 mana, you get a 4/4 with taunt, but it obviously isn’t a guaranteed taunt 4/4. Yes, it required use of The Coin, but by Turn 2 the Hunter had a 4/4 with taunt on the table! This means that I had to kill that thing off to get over to the Hunter (with my monsters at least), or I had to incapacitate it in some way. As a shaman, this wouldn’t be such an issue, if I weren’t limited to just 2 Hexes. Hex in hearthstone turns a target into a 0/2 Frog with taunt. Needless to say, I didn’t have anything like this and the creature I used to hurt it got killed, before it just got re-healed or he used the Spare Parts he received to just return it to his hand and replay it (which he did later). He played the game perfectly fairly… But the game felt broken to me.

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By turn 5, he had almost killed me due to effects like this. He used these Spare Parts to his advantage (which is perfectly fine), but there was nothing I could do in the process. I’ve never been lucky enough to get any legendaries, let alone any epics for my Shaman. It’s made me think… Perhaps it is time to hang up the boots of the Shaman and just play as a Warrior or a Rogue. Heck, when I switched over to my Rogue, who I haven’t even gotten any special cards for, I had 3 wins with her.

Perhaps this is World of Warcraft vanilla syndrome: Where all of the other classes gets powerful and the Shamans get left behind. I hope this is not the case, but if you pick up Hearthstone and you’ve not played for a while, I implore you to fight casual fights for a while until you can get enough gold and enough booster packs. It seems like you might need to play this game regularly to maintain any sort of skill.

Hearthstone TrophyOh but nevermind… Blizzard said there were connection problems for European players last week, which was when I played… So they’ve given us European players two free boosters. Perhaps my luck will change!? Thanks to Blizzard for addressing situations professionally by looking after their players. It also helps keep us players in, hook, line and sinker!

Do you agree with what I’ve noticed about the balance of the game? Do you think I was just incredibly unlucky and that I should just keep going? I’m going to keep going with it regardless, but I was staggered with how suddenly weak and vulnerable my deck suddenly felt. I had to change some things in it immediately and even then it wasn’t perfect.

As always though, comments below, over on Facebook or Twitter and let me know what you think about Hearthstone. Do you like the new Mech cards? Do you think they could be more balanced or is the balance just right?


Blog-versation: Bad Level Design

“Level” is an increasingly ambiguous term. With the rise of sandbox games, and the increasing power of home PCs and consoles, games are becoming increasingly free-flowing, breaking down by chapter, quest and location more than what we would have once called level. A good level is memorable, compelling, and can really drive a game forward. A bad level design is often memorable in it’s own right.

Bad levels can drive us from otherwise enjoyable games. Invisible walls and insurmountable obstacles, even slow paced or dull levels can make us put down our controllers and walk away.

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Proteus – Art in video games

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Steam, Humble Store, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Price (As of March 2014): £6.99 (Steam), Official website ($9.99).

I would recommend this game, Proteus; If you love art and love to explore.

If you think a game cannot be art, then Proteus will prove you wrong because you know what? This is a game that is pure art. Simple as that.

However… This is a review about the “video game” side of Proteus. As well as this, I’ve made a few points I hope people will understand.

Dreamy

Dreamy

Story

This game has no story. I’m not being mean, this game has no story. It’s an adventure game about exploration. That’s not too big a deal; I mean Tetris doesn’t have a story! What really matters is the game play, so what about the game play of Proteus?

Game Play

The game play in Proteus is limited. You are limited to walk forward, walk backward, walk left and right (WASD keys on a computer) and look around (Mouse). You cannot seem to jump, you cannot interact with anything. You simply walk and look around.

Speaking of looking around, I found I was having some trouble with this, too. How can this be? If I turn my mouse, I expect to be able to go 360 degrees. For one, the player character should be able to understand how to turn around, at least I thought. You can do about 180 degrees and I have found it is possible to turn the full way around, but it doesn’t always seem possible. I must be missing something with this, so please: Answers below on what I’m doing wrong, dear readers!

Graphics

Crisp and Retro inspired, Proteus aims to please it’s players by giving you a lustrous, expansive open world to explore. It satisfies, it relaxes and most importantly: It looks great.

Very pretty :)

Very pretty :)

It’s a beautiful world to explore and if anything, it kind of makes me want to discover more of the world I actually live in, too. But first, let’s explore the world of Proteus.

Music

I can’t say much here: The music is supposed to make you relax, which it does. It’s supposed to give a sense of exploration, which it does and it’s supposed to be nice. Which it is.

The music is spot on for this kind of game. Perhaps Proteus should fall under a genre of “Interactive art”, rather than game? Is this unfair of me to say this?

A very cool point to Proteus is that everything you discover affects the music in some way! Now THAT is a great feature and I’d not praise this enough. As you explore, if it gets darker, the music will change to reflect it. If you discover a plant, it somehow impacts the music in some way. If you stay in one place, there’s nothing different at all. This is how the game encourages you to explore. The more you see, the more feeling you’ll get from the world you’re just discovering for the first time.

Overall

I feel bad for giving this a relatively negative review. Graphically, this game is nice and audio wise, this game is awesome. Remember too, this is a procedurally generated world you are exploring and the game wants you to explore. Procedurally generated: This means, that based on some code(an algorithm), the world will change, seemingly randomly/dynamically.

This is how England always looks to me.

This is how England always looks to me.

But this is where I fail to understand it as a game, unless it was truly to spark off “Video games as art” as a genre. If that’s the case, this game has more than succeeded. I’ve spoken about this before, where games are a set of rules. That’s fine, that’s great even! So let’s examine the rules of this game:

  1. Each world is procedurally generated.
  2. Everything the player sees changes the audio with its own unique twist to the audio and the world they explore.
  3. Players can move.

I don’t know if I’ve missed something. I really don’t know. I feel bad that I don’t like this more than I do, as honestly; it is a beautiful game. Retro inspired, relaxing music… Shame about the “game” side of this.

From me, I’ll give this a medium score of 3/5.

On the upside

There’s nothing wrong with Proteus; however as a video game, I really cannot say much about it.

It’s an interactive medium with no story and the game play is simply walking around a procedurally generated world with some (Very well done) changing audio. If I could jump, I might be more excited? I’d see if I could get my way to the top of one of the little castles that appeared on my last play through. I’d see if I could leap from tree to tree. I want not to be limited by the constraints of walking, this is why I play video games. I want to be free. I want to explore your worlds, but I want to explore them on my terms. Just a jump button would have made all the difference in the world to me. I’m not even joking about that. I’d have scored higher if I could jump!

Hey, you don’t have to listen to my ramblings alone, as one of the creators of Proteus has written to defend his game – as a game. This Kotaku article explains his side of the coin and whilst I wholeheartedly agree with him, especially this line: “Outside of academic discussions, encouraging a strict definition of “game” does nothing but foster conservatism and defensiveness in a culture already notorious for both“, I also disagree to some extent.

From someone who’s played games since he can remember – This goes all the way back to my 4th year of living, I seem to have relatively good memory, when I was playing on the Amiga that we owned. I loved Super Frog. (I love you, Team17!) This was a game that had: rules, reason and a goal. You don’t need a story: Look at Tetris. You don’t need good graphics: Look at Pong. The very notion that someone who picks up a video game and has to accept it as a game, is absurd! I’m not going to slate Proteus as it was a very nice experience.

Here’s my problem

I found out and bought this game on Steam; where it is labelled as “Casual, Indie, Adventure.” The trouble is the word “Adventure” which is commonly depicted as having a goal in a (usually) fantasy world. Don’t take my word for it – Please come up with your own idea of an adventure game and write below! I’d want this game to, instead, have it’s own genre. Be an “Exploration” game. Not an “Adventure game” and if you read their website, “A game of audio-visual exploration and discovery by Ed Key and David Kanaga”. This misrepresentation isn’t the failing of Proteus, see? It’s everyone involved with selling this game.

With all of this set aside, let me very quickly do a second review for this game, using my own terms:

For a game that is now labelled (by myself) as an: Immersion Exploration game, Proteus delivers on all levels. With an unknown avatar to walk through a procedurally generated world, you are left with a sense of glee, as you explore this world more and more, in hopes to see and hear the many great sights and sounds of the world of Proteus.

The audio plays nicely as you set aside the problems of your working day, by listening to the blissful and dynamic music that plays throughout. You see a plant, how nice, the audio reflects this lovely experience.

As a game in the Immersion Exploration gaming world, I give Proteus: 5/5.

I leave you with a peaceful view.

I leave you with a peaceful view.

Finally

I will probably have annoyed some people who read this post; Please don’t be silent, I want to hear your take on this! If I had discovered this game from, say, the Humble Store: There would have been no genre discrepancy! Instead, it says: “Proteus is a game about exploration and immersion in a dream-like island world where the soundtrack to your play is created by your surroundings.” As an adventure game, I cannot recommend it. As an “Immersion Exploration” game? Yeah, I dig it. Hard!

What did you all think of Proteus? Are you interested in it? I do think it’s a great concept, I just feel bad I can’t enjoy it more; simply due to how I found out about the game! When I took away and made my own genre of it, this game was a lot more enjoyable. I didn’t hold to “Adventure” rules. I held to the rules of a game as a piece of art.