marginalgloss

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About marginalgloss

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    Reading, writing, video games
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  1. Star Wars Episode 8

    I finally saw this movie. I liked it a lot, far more than I was expecting to.
  2. Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time and effort (and probably $$$?) to keep the podcast rolling with Nick on board via telepresence. The end result is genuinely impressive and I really don't think I would have noticed any difference in audio quality if you hadn't mentioned that it was a thing. I really quite liked The Bone Clocks, though it's probably not for everyone. What differentiates it is not so much David Mitchell's tendency towards a single fictional universe in his work - that stuff is easy to overlook or ignore. It's more that The Bone Clocks very much feels to me like a work of high concept political/fantasy genre fiction, rather than literary fiction in which mysterious/magical things happen. In that regard it has something in common with writers like Ursula LeGuin, China Mieville, or even Philip Pullman. I really like this tendency, even though it does demand more in the way of internal coherence and, like, lore; some readers understandably find this insufferable. That said, if Mitchell announced that all his future books would be also set in the same world (he's already written one!) I'd be a little disappointed.
  3. I can't let any mention of In Our Time slide without linking to this excellent tribute to Melvyn Bragg's incomparable ability to segue smoothly through the word 'Hello' to a semi-cold introduction to the podcast without a comma, parenthesis, or pause for breath. It's always so good.
  4. Confused about Social Media...

    Twitter is the only social network I use on a daily basis. I remember the author J. G. Ballard once saying something to the effect that he wished he could have one of those old ticker-tape stock price machines that would feed him a steady stream of concentrated information about the state of the world: that's partly what Twitter is for me. Another part of it is following creative work by people and teams I admire. Another part is personal self-expression: a place to put dumb thoughts, bon mots, hot takes, pictures of my cat, and so on. It's where I tweet exactly once about things I've written, and then never mention them again (I am not good at self-promotion). I almost never use twitter for conversations, or to reach out to new people, because I find all of that to be quite intimidating. The thought of @'ing even a long-term mutual follower is painful at the best of times. Bunging someone a notification feels like a very mild analog to phoning them up – like I know that somewhere out there a buzz, a light, has gone off, because of something I did! – like I'm grasping for their attention. I'm not comfortable with that, but I think this is exactly why a lot of people love twitter: you can spend all day grasping for the attention of that guy with bad opinions, and for Jennifer Lopez, and from your point of view the network factors it as the same kind of interaction. I have pages on LinkedIn and Facebook but they're basically just friends-only placeholders at this stage. Facebook in particular I find almost overwhelmingly unpleasant to use. I'm aware that for many people it's essentially their Operating System for the internet, and perhaps that's why I'm so wary of it. Opening Facebook is like looking into another computer that lives inside my computer. It's weird. I use tumblr to host my blog. When I first started on that site many years ago the attractions were obvious: it was one of the easiest ad-free ways to host a free website, and they made it ridiculously easy to share a variety of content. But ever since the Yahoo buyout they’ve added next to nothing in the way of useful features except a slurry of 'promoted content' that clutters up my dashboard. It has the same problems it always had – in particular that it's really hard to find interesting, unique stuff, among stuff that is just insanely popular – and nobody seems to have any idea how to fix it. Most of the great writers I used to follow there have since migrated to other platforms (e.g. Medium). I cling to it because it is still easy(ish) to post new writing, and because the thought of migrating years of content elsewhere leaves me really scared. I should probably just make a clean break of it but also: that seems, like, a lot of work? Oh, and I also use Goodreads, but mainly because it is such a useful tool for cataloguing my reading. The social aspects are kind of awful, but given that I write a lot about books, more people seem to read that stuff here than anywhere else. Oddly, nobody has ever said anything especially mean about my reviews, but some of the Goodreads commentariat are quite strange. I'm over 30 now so of course I don't understand Instagram or YouTube or Snapchat or Twitch.
  5. Is Steam (Valve) Good? If not, what then?

    Agree with pretty much all of what you said, @Merus. I'm sure Valve would argue that their platform facilitates creative cross-pollination, supports independent developers and artists, enables everyone to find their own audience - etc etc. I only know that their record in that regard seems...kind of mixed? And that's before we encounter the more dubious value-added prospects: the prominence of user-submitted reviews, for example, or the preponderance of 'fake games' and shovelware. The trading aspects of the Steam economy seem especially objectionable to me because I find it hard to conceive of any reason for it existing outside of making cash through borderline exploitative mechanics. It might not fit any legal definition of 'gambling' but I absolutely think it's deserving of serious government regulation. There was an interesting question raised on the Bombcast not too long ago about what might happen if a company like Tencent or Amazon bought Valve. It doesn't seem entirely outside the realms of possibility to me; the current situation of a multi-billion dollar company with just -/+300 employees trying to take on the world doesn't seem sustainable. SteamOS, Steamboxes and the HTC Vive felt like an attempt to make themselves into a more omnipresent kind of platform holder, but they surely can't manage that at their current size.
  6. Is Steam (Valve) Good? If not, what then?

    That's an interesting article, though I wish it had been edited a bit more attentively. There's some fine points which get lost amidst all the polemical 'good guy'/'bad guy' rhetoric. I don't use Steam a great deal right now, but I've always been uncomfortable with the trading economy (which has been extensively covered on the Idle Thumbs podcasts, of course). There is an argument to be made that Valve have created a system that facilitates grey/black market trading, gambling, and possibly even money laundering; and whether they're aware of it or not, they are continuing to profit from it in a way that seemingly goes beyond the oversight of any regulatory body. But I don't know if that makes them 'evil' or just an ideal example of a certain type of company in the twenty-first century. I think a lot of other companies would follow suit, if they had the technical nous. I hate it, but also: why wouldn't they? Also I found the caption of the old screenshot from 2004 ('Steam looked very different...') quite funny. It still looks the same to me! The UI remains old and bad but at least it isn't olive green, I suppose.
  7. I am suitably intrigued. Some of the swooshy head motions made me think of VR? But it might just be the fossicking about in first-person (a core part of the Firewatch aesthetic). The IGN article sent me down a wikipedia rabbit hole reading about Nefertiti. Apparently her tomb has never been found, which means it's definitely full of ghost.
  8. Other podcasts

    I just finished listening to the Dirty John podcast from the LA Times. It's the latest thing in the true crime reportage / documentary subgenre, and owes a great deal to Serial and S-Town and all that stuff. I don't think is quite as good as either of those but it's worth a look if you have any interest in such things. It's a story about a woman who marries a man who turns out to be...a very different kind of person to who she thought he was. As the title suggests, he's not a very nice man. The story is horribly gripping, with an emphasis on 'horrible'; if you find it difficult to listen to stories of emotional abuse or domestic strife, you might want to give it a miss. The 'adult content' warning at the start of each episode is barely sufficient. Or, if you're like me, and you're quietly afraid of most people (especially men), you'll probably find it fascinating and anxiety-inducing in equal measures. At times I think the production lays it on a bit thick - with the squeaky Southern Gothic music, and literary turns of phrase that make it feel like a cheap crime thriller - but I think it's the kind of story that deserves to be brought to wider attention. It's a truly shameful, galling reminder of the myriad ways in which men can be awful to women.
  9. GOTY of the Year

    I've only finished a few games this year, and I've bought even fewer new games. I guess 2017 has been a strong year but for the most part I found myself feeling very little urgency to catch up with the latest thing. Still, I have opinions! I've attached links to longer things wot I wrote about some of these, in case anyone is interested: Breath of the Wild stands on a mountaintop, comfortably above everything else I've played lately, waving its little sword in defiance. At the beginning of this year I really didn't know if Nintendo could do it. They'd never made an open world game before, and much as I like the Zelda games, well – I got quite far through Skyward Sword just before this came out, and so much of that game feels awfully tired now. But BotW is entirely phenomenal. I don't think I was expecting anything nearly so good. For all the ingenuity of its systems, it stimulates a very primitive sense of wonder in a way anyone can appreciate. The Wii U was my first Nintendo console, and it's somehow fitting that after introducing me to so many classic titles, it should be this faithful machine which ushers in what feels like a real next generation moment. Dishonored 2 I liked very much. I still think it's essentially a portfolio of brilliant immersive sim ideas in search of a story; the stuff which holds it all together is a bit lacking. But when it's on form, it's frequently stunning: A Crack in the Slab in particular might be the single best example of the 'sneak around a big mansion' level type I've ever played. I haven't played Death of the Outsider yet – though I literally have a copy sitting in my drawer – but I'm excited to see that it seems to be ranking here in front of the main game. I am playing Nier: Automata at the moment. I've not got far but I feel it's going to be something kind of extraordinary. Baby baby baby. Other notable mentions, for older games I finished this year: The Last Guardian. I really think this is something special, and it's kind of a shame it got such a lukewarm response. At a time when most story-driven games seem to be striving to get away from asking the player to establish their own relationship with some kind of systems-driven AI, this game's singular focus on that (for all the ensuing flaws!) seems so remarkable to me. Nobody's ever made anything like this and I don't know that anyone will ever make anything like it again. It is, by some distance, Ueda's best game. The Beginner's Guide. One of the most thoughtful, affecting, disturbing games I've ever played. All the games I've mentioned here are funny in their own way but this is the best joke among them all. A minor metafictional masterpiece. Fire Emblem: Fates and Hitman. I've poured countless hours into both of these; both are immaculately polished, both are somewhat lacking in the plot department, but both are full of character, and mechanically peerless. If I haven't bought one before then, when the next proper Fire Emblem game is released I shall happily lay down the price of a Switch.
  10. Movie/TV recommendations

    I've recently been really enjoying the first two seasons of the BBC series Inside No 9. This has been around for a few years but I'm only just encountering it now via Netflix. It's a 30 minute anthology show where each episode is entirely different in style, story and format. The only thing they have in common is that each one takes place in a single location with a number nine in its title - often a house or an apartment, but sometimes something else, like a sleeper compartment of a railway carriage or a dressing room in a theatre. I guess you could file it under 'unsettling horror comedy' - something akin to a very British take on the Twilight Zone. But each episode is very different in tone. Some of the stories are small and silly and some of them are really wild. Some of it is quite gentle and funny, and some of it is really, really horrible. Sometimes it's quite affecting as well. Sometimes it is all of these things within the same half hour. One of them is entirely silent! But the ones which are not silent are generally written really well. It's the product of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, who have somehow both written and starred in all the episodes thus far. They are part of the team who made The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, but it's a very different thing from those shows (which I never fully enjoyed tbh). I think No 9 is comfortably the best thing they've done and one of the most interesting, imaginative, unpredictable British TV shows I've seen in a long time.
  11. Hitman: Steve Gaynor Edition

    While watching this superbunnyhop video on the 'failure' of Hitman I was reminded of something I'm sure I'd forgotten - that the game was originally scheduled to be released in two big instalments, rather than six episodes. The first would have been everything up to and including Marrakesh; the second everything after; $35 each or $60 for both. It's an intriguing reminder of what could have been. It's an interesting video - food for thought, though I don't agree with all of it. One thing I do think it gets right is the difficulty of marketing difficult, unusual stealth games to a mass market audience via a publisher who is expecting astronomical sales. Hitman is a big franchise - they've made movies out of it! - but the latest game isn't an easy one to explain in terms outside of 'surly man with guns'. I mean, I know what it's about because I'm old and I remember Blood Money and all that - but I think I would get easily flummoxed trying to explain it to a teenager. The game's brief popularity amongst streamers probably did them an enormous favour in that regard. It's only once you see someone playing it that you really start to understand what's going on here.
  12. Hitman: Steve Gaynor Edition

    Several months later and this is still one of the main games I'm playing. I've cleared all the opportunities (and done all the goofy trophy stuff) in all the missions apart from Colorado and Hokkaido. I still have some Mastery to build up, but I'm happy to leave that to give me a reason to come back in future. And man, there's still so much to do - I was staggered to pick a contract at random one time and find myself in a new version of Sapienza, where they were shooting a movie in front of the house - I've not even looked at these alternate campaigns outside of the main story. All this makes me feel a little exhausted to learn that IO Interactive have just released a GOTY edition of the game, which includes all the content released so far plus a new campaign (set in reworked versions of the existing maps) and a grab-bag of new costumes and weapons. You can either buy the whole thing or pay about $15 for the upgrade, if you have previously bought the game. This upgrade seems to have received a fairly muted response, which makes me feel a little sorry for the devs since this is their first package as an independent studio. I've not seen a review of the new stuff anywhere, so I'd be interested to hear if anyone has given it a try. Given how much I'm enjoying the game I might pick it up at some point, but I'm in no hurry at the moment. More exciting for me at least is the news that Elusive Targets are coming back next week. Worth noting you don't need the GOTY edition to play them, but they will only be available for people who missed them the first time around - if you attempted and failed, you don't get a second bite of the cherry. They've also said that they'll have more to show regarding properly new Hitman stuff next year. I wonder if they'll build upon the first season, or whether they'll abandon the episodic model altogether. I wonder if it worked out well for them; I feel like the initial response to Paris and Sapienza was euphoric, with the rest of the maps receiving a slightly more muted reaction. Perhaps a lot of people felt like they had their fill with those episodes. A quick glance at the PSN trophies for Hokkaido shows that only 11% of players ever finished that map - I guess that seems low. But that figure includes everyone who has ever downloaded the game (after they game the first one or two levels away free) is that a big number? I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens…
  13. Recently completed video games

    I finished Beyond Good and Evil (via the PS3 HD edition). This is such an odd, interesting game in the Ubisoft back catalogue. A year ago, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that the sequel to what is now a fairly obscure cult classic from 2003 would be announced as potentially one of the biggest and most ambitious games they will ever make. And yet here we are. Encountered today, it seems like one of the better examples of that early 2000s tendency where video games were starting to develop a ‘mature’ identity, while largely still defining themselves by old mechanics and adolescent tropes. So we had Shadow the Hedgehog, Jak and Daxter 2, the death of Lara Croft, and so on. In this case we get a game with a cute art style, anthropomorphic characters, and whimsical dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in a kids TV show, alongside a storyline set in a corporate dystopia that deals in some seriously dark conspiracy theories. Though aspects of it feel dated, the combination of a groovy European sensibility with an anti-authoritarian, pro-diversity message still feels fresh. But though it steps away from relentless violence as a way of solving every problem, it can’t entirely answer the questions it throws up at every juncture. You play as Jade, a young woman who lives in a lighthouse on a faraway planet, Hillys, with her uncle, a pig man named Pey’j. Jade’s world is under constant attack from an alien race, a vaguely Geiger-esque bunch called the Domz who’ve been kidnapping the locals for some nefarious purpose. They’re supposed to be defended by the Alpha Section, a local corporate military force — except the soldiers always seem to show up conveniently late to intervene in the attacks. Jade picks up her camera and goes to join a local band of rebels who have devoted themselves to finding out the truth about the invasion. In most games this would simply involve annihilating everything in your path. The solution in Beyond Good and Evil is charmingly old-fashioned: the rebels are publishing a secret newsletter, and Jade’s role is to sneak into suspicious locations and send back photographic evidence. (You point and shoot the camera manually, from a first-person perspective; a delightful side-quest involves taking pictures of the local wildlife.) There’s some combat — Jade is pretty handy with a quarterstaff — but it’s limited in scope. The game owes a good deal to the 3D Zelda games, especially in the way that players will divide their time between exploring a small open world, sneaking through long, complex, multi-layered levels. But unlike Wind Waker (to which it owes the most) the game is far smaller in scope. The overworld is tiny, there's not much to discover off the beaten track, and there's only one or two meaningful upgrades that change the way you play. The dark stuff, though, is pretty dark: I'm fascinated by a comment I read somewhere by Michel Ancel to the effect that the events of 9/11 were a key influence on the shape of this game. I don't know quite what to make of that. The whole thing seems shot through with a deeply cynical distrust of authority: media, politicians, the military. Nobody and nothing can be trusted. It's that conspiracy theory mindset -- Metal Gear again -- but without the cinematic hooks that keep Kojima tethered, albeit on a distant orbit. By the end I kind of felt like the game was done with the world as much as I was done with the game; as if the game wanted to destroy itself, wanted to do away with all its own characters; but couldn't, because it was a big budget video game published in 2003, and not an art movie. It's all very strange. I'm not sure it's the timeless classic I've sometimes seen it described as, but it's certainly worth a look for anyone interested in a unique, offbeat Zelda clone.
  14. Nintendo 3DS

    So I've now finished all three of the campaigns for Fire Emblem: Fates. (I'm also pretty sure I've done all the DLC maps, because I'm an idiot.) It took me something like 200 hours. Birthright I did on Hard, the other two on Normal. Permadeath on throughout. I regret it somewhat! Okay, I don't regret it that much. But I'm not sure I can recommend it, either. FE: Fates is clearly a very good version of what was already a very good game in Awakening. I still find these games immensely satisfying and charming to play. I think they are maybe my favourite portable game experiences ever, in fact. The presentation on 3DS is outstanding; even if they rerelease some of these games on Switch, I'm not sure it'll be the same,. I'm not sure I would want to see these games in HD, if that makes sense: they already feel perfectly scaled to the capabilities of the 3DS. But I also think the variety across these three campaigns was somewhat oversold. I'm not sure I could honestly recommend playing more than one of them, unless you really like Fire Emblem. There's just too much of 'haven't I seen this before?' in the maps and situations, even if they are sometimes presented in a slightly different format. So my recommendation would be: play Conquest, then if you really liked it and want more, play Revelations. I like Conquest because I think the cast of characters is just more fun (the Hoshidans are a rather self-serious bunch by comparison) and because the mission design is a little more challenging. You can still grind for XP if you really want to, but in Conquest you really have to think about how you want to invest in your team in each chapter. That's a huge part of the Fire Emblem experience for me - it's not so much about the permadeath (I am one of those maniacs who compulsively smashes restart if anyone dies) - it's about building a team which feels like it is uniquely your own. Revelations adds some neat mechanical variations which mix things up a bit, and it lets you play with the best of both casts - and you can make them smooch, which is obviously very important in healing the Nohrian/Hoshidan divide. To be honest, the story isn't great in any of the campaigns, but Revelations probably has the most satisfying ending (and best endgame levels) out of any of them. I wonder what the next full-fat FE game on the Switch will look like. It'll have to be in a new engine, I think, and I wonder if it'll crib some of the open world aspects from Shadows of Valentia/BotW/SMOdyssey. My main hope is that the plot is a bit more character-driven than Fates. The question of how to unite the actual plot of the game with the character-smooching aspect seems to me to be the biggest question that the 3DS games have raised thus far...
  15. The Nintendo Wii U is Great Thread

    It's a bit of a shame that they're closing this, though I guess it was inevitable ever since the Switch launched without it. I imagine it was quite costly to develop and maintain, and I can't quite picture the business case that would allow it to survive. I'm pretty sure they've said that nothing will be 'broken' for any games - it would just be as if you were playing them offline, I guess. I've seen people on Twitter saying that Affordable Space Adventures uses Miiverse integration for something very special late on in the game. I've played the game but never got far enough to discover it. ZombiU and the port of Deus Ex had some interesting online features whereby you could encounter other players in the game for the former, and in the latter you could leave Dark Souls-esque messages (even in audio form!) in places on the map. I don't know if those were tied to Miiverse, though. I suspect they were. Shovel Knight on Wii U also has a thing whereby you could leave messages and hints to other players on specific screens; the messages actually appeared in game, though you had to switch to a separate menu to see them, which rather takes you out of the experience. There's Mario Maker but the Miiverse integration in that wasn't especially useful because there was no way to get directly into a level from the UI. Apparently online course sharing will still work, though you won't be able to comment on levels any more. There's the Tingle bottles in Wind Waker HD. I can't remember what they do. You could share videos from Mario Kart 8 but the interface for it was kind of a fudge and I think they might have turned that part off already. I think the loss of the drawings by other players in games like Splatoon and SM3DW will be the biggest cultural loss. You couldn't really say that that they added a great deal to the games, as such - but they were nice. And some of them were amazingly good. The forum aspect was also really useful for specialist games like Fire Emblem and Monster Hunter for asking (or answering) specialist questions about the game which wouldn't really fit anywhere other than, like, GameFAQs. Oh, and as slow as it is, Miiverse on the 3DS is actually quite useful as one of the few dependable ways to get screenshots out of any game which doesn't support saving them directly to the SD card. You can even save up to three screenshots while you're offline, and then post them to your account when you get back online. I presume this feature will be totally gone now. Boo.