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Everything posted by marginalgloss

  1. Almost forgot to say something very important about the long-awaited reappearance of Laura Palmer's Theme in this episode:
  2. Some thoughts: I wonder if anyone has tried to unpack the numbers yet. I seem to recall a lot of very deliberate images of numbers in Fire Walk With Me, too - the telephone pole, and so on. I wonder if it's continuous. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if the numbers amounted to exactly nothing when assembled. The use of colour is extremely pointed in this episode. The red door, the red chair, the red room; the blue rose case, the blue light that shrouds the final scene between Cole and Albert; the green of that horrible jacket, the green of the ring. I'm not sure it's useful (or possible) to ascribe a specific meaning to those colours in any given context. But there's a sense in which they're used to evoke a certain similar something in each case. Red for a threat, for a portal to some kind of Other; blue for perpetual mystery, like the blue box in Mulholland Drive; green is talismanic, a protection or a curse. At first I thought the part where Denise teases Gordon Cole about bringing Tammy along was just a joke about Lynch's historic penchant for casting beautiful actresses in (some might say!) objectified roles in his movies. But it actually goes a bit deeper than that - a quick glance at the Wikipedia page for Chrysta Bell shows that she and Lynch have been working together on music since 1999. A better in-joke than it seems, I suppose. The music sequences at the end of the episodes have been a little disappointing so far. It's partly because, to be honest, I haven't really liked any of the bands on show, and partly because those sequences feel like an afterthought. When Lynch uses music or shows a musician in his movies, and especially when he shows you the performer, it's generally for a very specific purpose - think 'In Dreams' in Blue Velvet, or the version of 'Crying' in Mulholland Drive, or even Jimmy Scott in 'Fire Walk with Me' - but there's none of that here. Nor is there any of the feeling of a world unto itself that we got with Julee Cruise in the original series - that always felt to me like a kind of fake music that couldn't have existed anywhere else but this odd TV series. In a strange way I wish they had at least had the bands miming, rather than playing live… Anyway, I'm still enjoying the new season very much. The part where Cole simply repeated Albert's name three times is probably the most impressive bit of acting I've ever seen from Lynch.
  3. Movie/TV recommendations

    Last night I watched Wake in Fright. This is a deeply strange Australian movie from 1971, which was considered something of a lost classic until it received a proper remaster and re-release a few years ago. It is, apparently, getting remade as a TV series this year. The film is about a man who works as a schoolteacher in the middle of the outback. He's educated, middle-class, and hates his job: he harbours a high opinion of himself, which is another way of saying he thinks little of the people out there. On the way back to Sydney during the holidays, he finds himself stranded in a mid-size Australian town. Embraced by the local hospitality, he falls in with a group of men. Bad things happen. I've sometimes seen this billed as a horror movie, but that designation doesn't seem quite right to me. There are no cannibal rednecks out here. But it is extremely unsettling, made more so by how ordinary much of it is. You could call it a thriller, I suppose, but that doesn't quite seem adequate to describe the gradual escalation of threat witnessed here. It is a psychological terror in the truest sense: the feeling that, divorced from the ability to form natural relationships within society, a man's own worst enemy tends always to be himself. It's one of the rare movies to remind me of that menacing quality often found in David Lynch's work - quite apart from that which is often wrongly called 'Lynchian' as shorthand for surreal. I mean something like the relentless quality of those scenes in Blue Velvet with Dennis Hopper, where it seems impossible that the raging menace of this threat could ever end. In that movie it did, just about; Wake in Fright offers no such catharsis. Highly recommended.
  4. Deadly Premonition

    I actually started playing this for the first time the other night on the PS3, as a kind of teaser for season 3 of Twin Peaks. It turns out that it would be extremely generous to compare this to Twin Peaks. Some obvious points: it looks shockingly ugly today; the sound design is all over the place, though some of the music is actually rather nice (if wildly incongruous); the shooting is tedious, if not super difficult so far. The writing is like nothing else I've ever seen in a game. It's like they got Kevin Smith to rewrite a Mel Brooks parody of Twin Peaks, and then removed half the jokes. And some of the environmental design is monumentally weird - it's kind of awful but in a strangely compelling way. Endless hallways and doors that lead nowhere. I have no idea whether I'll have the patience to persist with this - it's not exactly 'fun' thus far, and the cutscenes seem interminable - but I can see why some find it fascinating. (Actually the Idle Thumbs podcast was probably the first place I ever heard this game mentioned - wasn't there a 'cast recorded while Steve was playing it in the background?)
  5. Right up until I was actually watching it, I had a lot of doubts as to whether this was going to be any good. My concerns were that Lynch would either phone it in, or deliver something brutally impenetrable and irrelevant to the original. He never seemed particularly interested in where the second series ended up, so I half-expected this to be an entirely fresh start. But I think the first two episodes strike a fine balance between being a totally new David Lynch production, and being a sequel which maintains links to the lore of the original. There's no sense in which it tries to mimic the conventional TV drama mise-en-scene of the original - and I think I'm grateful for that. Some thoughts - cut more for length than for spoilers, not that there's much to 'spoil' in these episodes -
  6. Recently completed video games

    William Somerset Maugham once described his own work as belonging to the first rank of the second rate; much the same could be said about Binary Domain (2012), which I finished recently on the PS3. This is one of those games that is sometimes now cited as an under-appreciated classic from the last generation. Played now, it feels like the equivalent of a really dumb straight-to-DVD action movie which despite all its flaws sometimes stumbles upon moments of greatness. The plot: it's the near-future and you're part of a special forces team sneaking into Tokyo to shut down a Japanese robotics corporation that has been making androids which look indistinguishable from real people. In practice this involves blasting your way through a small army of robots (which is pretty good fun) punctuated by the occasional on-rails set piece on a turret/jet ski/moving truck (which is less fun). It's mechanically very shallow, and sometimes feels a bit dated - the 'cinematic' third-person shooter genre suddenly feels like a relic of the Xbox 360 era - but the 'bots shatter and crumple in a way that's always satisfying. The modelling and animation is fantastically detailed: you can shoot off limbs and heads, and even strip off outer layers of armour to reveal the T800-esque skulls beneath. And while there isn't much variation in the encounters with regular enemies, the game is full of some wildly OTT boss fights. It does have one or two notable gameplay innovations. There is a voice command system whereby the player is supposed to actually shout squad commands into their mic during the course of the game (needless to say I did not do this). What's a little more interesting is that the interface in which you issue those commands in combat - advance, hold, fall back, etc - is the same interface for talking to your squadmates in between skirmishes. The idea, I suppose, is that you'd actually be 'talking' to them with your actual voice in both cases - but just having to use the same UI for both feels quite novel. In a strange way it reminded me of Firewatch, though for the most part Binary Domain just plays this system for laughs. There may be some differences in late-game stuff depending on how your teammates feel about you, but none of it is very consequential. The characters aren't especially developed, but they are immensely likeable. The writing is not 'good', but it's amusing enough - the semi-dynamic banter during excursions is really nice. And the cutscenes are very well directed, perhaps because this is a product from the same team who brought us the Yakuza games. They're frequently absurd - think They Live, with a twist of Kojima - but there's something captivating about them regardless. My only real complaint is the range of dubious international stereotypes on show (including Troy Baker's British accent, which rightly deserves a Guy Ritchie movie all of its own). This sometimes strays into outright racism: your best buddy, 'Big Bo', is every African-American generalisation rolled into one large package; and when the protagonist kept referring to the only Chinese woman on the team as 'farm girl', and when he suggested she'd be better off in a rice paddy (!) I began to feel a desperate urge to walk him into the nearest stream of minigun fire. That there's so much about it that's generic and really dumb means it's hard to give this an unqualified recommendation. But it is worth a look, for all its problems. It is a great example of a big, strange, under-appreciated failure in the video game world. I think it's better than a lot of its contemporaries from that year: I think it is a more interesting and entertaining game than Max Payne 3, for example. I would even say it's more fun, and almost more interesting, than Spec Ops: The Line. I say 'almost' because in the end, it never entirely fulfils the intrigue of its premise. The idea, cribbed as it may be from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, that robots walk among us unaware of their difference from humanity, has a lot of potential for a shooter - but the game does almost nothing with it. And then it introduces another level to the conspiracy near the end, but it does nothing with that either. The only robots you fight here are faceless, generic security droids; even when you find yourself in a sewer, wading through the rusting remains of defective androids, the game doesn't seem to have considered the implications of what it is doing. It's almost enough to make me wonder if they considered introducing some kind of cyber-twist but abandoned it in pursuit of appealing to a broader audience; in the end, I guess they got neither the twist nor the audience.
  7. I checked the other night and I've put 53 hours into this game so far. I've done just over 60 shrines; got about 100 seeds; done two divine beasties; and unlocked a good few special things besides that. I must have unlocked at least half of the regions on the map, though how much of them I've actually seen is anyone's guess. I haven't even fought a proper Guardian yet. I keep seeing them from a distance and running away, because I'm a baby. I'm still loving it as much as I ever did. I heard someone say on a podcast the other day that they finished it in 50 hours; I have no idea how that would be remotely possible to my degree of satisfaction. That said, I feel like I'm somewhat over-levelled now for most of what the game has to throw at me - my pockets overfloweth with great weapons, ingredients, rupees etc. Even the Major Test of Strength shrines aren't a problem anymore (thank god). I wonder how different it would feel to ride straight to every main objective from the start, only stopping at shrines that were within immediate range, rather than scrambling all over the map as I like to do. It would be challenging but I'm sure they tested that as a viable route. The only thing that disappoints me about the Wii U version is that the game doesn't look great when played on the gamepad alone, which I'm doing increasingly. It's just a bit grainy - the resolution looks quite 'squashed' on that old sub-720p screen. Also the idea of being able to pick it up on the Switch and put it down at a moment's thought is really tempting. My Wii U seems to take a million years to crank into life these days. From time to time, I find myself thinking that if they made a Wii U to Switch save transfer tool, I'd definitely buy a Switch plus this game again - especially if they bundled it in with the DLC. I'm gonna get a Switch anyway, and the game is so damn good I would have little objection to buying it twice. Is it totally inconceivable that they'd do that? Maybe not, when you consider that they haven't really done anything in the way of an onboarding program for people moving from Wii U to Switch - the strategy has been to focus on people who didn't have a Wii U in year one as a priority, and it certainly seems to be working. But that kind of transfer would be my ideal option for going through Hard mode, and the new content. Perhaps they could do something in conjunction with a cloud save system for Switch - but on the other hand, given that the Wii U has been comprehensively cracked, I think they'd want to avoid a situation where the Switch could be running modified save files.
  8. Recently completed video games

    I finished two very different games in the last week. The first: Actual Sunlight on the PS Vita. This is probably one of the most challenging titles ever to receive the implicit corporate endorsement of Sony's monthly PS Plus giveaways. The first time I booted it up, I found the tone of the writing so unpleasant that I shut it down within the first five minutes. It's written from the point of view of an Angry Man on the Internet, and god knows the internet has enough of this kind of thing: angry, lacerating, myopic, and self-serious to a merciless degree. I knew where the game was going, and I knew that the acerbic nature of the protagonist's writing was part of the point; but still the thought of immersing myself so completely in this kind of mindset made me feel a bit sick. Not because I am unfamiliar with depression but because so much of it seemed so painfully obvious. I guess I prefer my 'fundamental pessimism regarding the purpose of existence under late capitalism' to sound something a bit less like a Bill Hicks routine. I don't know that the game entirely escapes the posture of the smart-alecky internet commenter, even in its most heartfelt moments; it doesn't ever quite find an alternate register of language. But it is hard to criticise something so earnest. And I'm glad I stuck with it. It's a remarkable piece of work, and probably an important game, even if I don't think it is 'good' by the standards I'd usually apply to a game like this. I also finished Doom (the new one). It's very good, isn't it? That said, the good stuff is front loaded: the best missions are in the early parts of the game, with the Foundry probably being the absolute highlight. Later on it becomes apparent that they either had to rush to finish it, or they ran out of ideas for new missions and mechanics. Towards the end in particular the game gives up on those wonderfully sprawling maps and moves towards a more linear, conventional FPS map design. It's still fun to rush about splitting noggins, but after a while even that starts to feel a bit like those moments in an Uncharted game where you see a room full of waist-high obstacles and think 'oh, balls'. But mein gott, when Doom turns it on, it turns it on like nothing else. Even right up to the end of the game I still couldn't help myself saying oh fuckfuckfuck out loud when seeing a Hell Knight pound towards me. It's a game which pursues its big gameplay idea with that same determination. And it might only have one big idea - but nobody else making FPS games has executed on a single idea so well in years.
  9. I was really looking forward to this, given that it is a new ‘Shock-em-up/immersive sim from Arkane. But I had a go on the demo last night and was a bit disappointed. I’d still recommend giving it a shot if you have an interest in that sort of game because there’s some cool things about it but I don’t think this is a Day One Perch for me. I really hope they push the psychological aspect of the horror further than they did in the demo. If they do, it might be enough to pull me back in. As it stands, I think I’ll wait for the reviews; if they're good, I might pick it up when it's a little cheaper. For now I have the new Deus Ex and a second playthrough of Dishonored 2 to scratch the same itch...
  10. Feminism

    Yeah, the essay is at least worth a look for any fans of David Foster Wallace. I would include myself as one of those - I've read all his stuff, apart from The Broom of the System - but I am a long way from being an evangelist for him. (Or at least I hope I am? My initial reaction to the piece was fairly mixed, and probably not all that interesting; it's difficult to put into words that don't end up sounding something like 'not all men'.) One suggestion: I liked the essay much better when I read it 'backwards', the second time around - i.e. starting at the end and working my way up, one paragraph at a time. For some reason I have found this a very satisfying way of re-reading lately.
  11. Movie/TV recommendations

    I finally had the chance to watch High-Rise by Ben Wheatley, from a year or so ago. I was quite excited by this, as I'm a huge fan of J.G. Ballard (the author of the novel on which it is based) but the film left me with thoroughly mixed feelings. It felt like it was constantly striving towards a certain tone that the directing and editing didn't quite know how to establish consistently. The lurid vision of 1970s Britain is laid on rather too thick, and so much of it - especially early on - is shot in such a way that feels like a pantomime version of Kubrick. And yet when things get going, there are moments in it - a handful of images - that have real potency. The skull; the dogs; everything involving the swimming pool. The heaps of black binbags everywhere. But all of it feels sharp and HD-ish when it ought to feel fuzzy and close; it's somehow not quite right. Also Tom Hiddlestone didn't work for me. He is a charisma-free zone here. This being Ballard, you could argue that's exactly the point, but there's something about his performance I just couldn't swallow. He has the constant look of a faintly embarrassed public schoolboy throughout (and I say that as an oft-embarrassed ex-public schoolboy myself). Much of the rest of the cast were excellent, though. Reece Shearsmith is always good value for money.
  12. I had a few rounds on the Uprising game mode last night. It's fun, and really quite challenging on anything above Normal difficulty. There's something about fighting the robot hordes that seems to encourage players to ignore the objective and charge off on their own, even more than is normally the case in Overwatch. I often found myself trying to hold the objective alone while the rest of my team tried to dally pointlessly with the enemy. People think they can handle it because it's just dumb AI, but there's a tendency to underestimate the way in which the robots can and will come from all directions. At times it reminds me of Left 4 Dead in the sense in which if one player goes down the situation suddenly becomes critical - if you can't revive them, you're very unlikely to survive because the firepower and self-healing of the default team is incredibly limited. It's an interesting dynamic - I'm not sure they've quite nailed it yet, but yeah, the 'all heroes' version is a good time. Still, as with the Halloween mission, I'm always really impressed at how much extra content (skins, voice acting, cutscenes, etc) they've added for what is effectively just a very comprehensive mod for their own game. To an extent it feels like they're still playing for time while they work on new 'real' game modes/maps, but if this is what treading water looks like, I'm hoping that a proper coop mode will be really impressive - if it ever appears. Surely it will - though I do wonder if it could ever be as attractive as the main game...
  13. Recently completed video games

    I finished The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap on the Wii U, after many months of playing it in dribs and drabs in between other games. Encountered today it seems like the epitome of stolid, conventional Zelda games - you do some dungeons, you get some toys, you do some stuff with the toys, you rescue the princess. It's rather cute. The dungeons are fine. If you've played A Link Between Worlds and A Link to the Past and you want Another One of Those, it's a good time. I will say that the art style and animation is lovely, especially on a handheld-size screen. (I played this on the gamepad almost exclusively - it's kind of ridiculous that this isn't available on the 3DS, especially as GBA emulators are on pretty much everything now.) The music is also quite charming, as is some of the dialogue. And I love the whole idea of a secret race of tiny people living alongside the regular-sized people, and the notion of shrinking to their size to solve puzzles and such - some of the environmental details they put into the 'little worlds' are really nice. But the gameplay never quite does anything very interesting with that mechanic, outside of some very strictly-designed puzzles - like a big robot boss where you have to shrink yourself in the middle of the fight to go inside his body and mess him up. It's nothing like so complex as the 'merge into walls' thing in A Link Between Worlds, for example. The one area in which it does innovate relative to the usual Zelda format is in the Kinstone system. It's...not great. Basically, you have to pick up these stones in the world (coloured according to rarity) and then trade them in with NPCs in order to make something happen in the world. It's effectively a way of abstracting out a sidequest system, and I never found it especially difficult to manage, but it does make everything feel opaque and unpredictable to a bizarre degree. You can give some guy a special stone and it makes an unrelated door appear halfway across the map - and there might be something fantastic behind that door or it could just be some more rupees. It's all very strange.
  14. Other podcasts

    I finished S-Town at the end of last week. It's an exceptional piece of work - I can't stop thinking about it. But there are aspects of it I find troubling. I wonder what other listeners have made of the points raised in this Vox article - 'I’m not convinced it should have been made' is way too strong, IMO - but it's one of the few critical readings I've seen which attempts to engage with some of the ethical problems posed by this kind of media. Is there something exploitative about S-Town - and does that matter if the end result presents such a compelling vision of the human experience? I really don't know. People used to have this debate about Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood', and I'm not entirely sure a definitive answer is possible. For my own part I can't help but wonder how I would feel if a journalist descended into my life and held up every secret they could find before an audience of millions. But perhaps that audience would find my secrets so compelling that the net benefit to humanity would be worth the momentary embarrassment of the individual. On a different note: I was amused to see that a journalist for The Guardian rocked up in Woodstock the other day and failed to discover anything much of note - though he did get a pretty good picture of the Feed Me belly guy.
  15. The Last Guardian

    I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of how games are put together is very limited, so when I'm writing about cutscenes and physics simulations and so on I'm mostly just grasping towards some understanding of how a game made me feel, in the moment. And given that most of my formative gaming was on an underpowered PC, I have a fairly high tolerance for games that don't always run well. In this case I worry I might have explained myself quite badly? I'm sorry if that's the case - and thank you, @gwardinen, for your very thoughtful response. I think you're entirely correct about the difference between technical ambition and technical execution, and this certainly deserves to be recognised. For me, I think that for all the problems with The Last Guardian it does succeed in doing some very special things. I feel like for this game in particular, it's worthwhile to look at those problems (and they are often real, significant problems) as the by-product of deliberate creative choices. They were trying to do some very particular things with this game and maybe they weren't entirely successful but the result is interesting regardless. Maybe that's true of games in general, though? And maybe my approach overlooks the myriad ways in which any game is necessarily compromised, unfinished - maybe I'm just affording the developers too much benefit of the doubt... I'm not sure the game would have felt quite the same to me with a camera from Uncharted, or the recent Tomb Raiders. And I like those games a good deal. (That's an obvious point, in a way - 'if the game was different it would have felt different!' - but I keep coming back to it in my mind.) I'm thinking of some of my favourite moments from TLG, and how different they felt to anything from Uncharted - the moments when camera perspective and location and AI and simulation all cohere into something bigger. This bit I recorded, for example. I pretty much knew what was going to happen here (because it was widely trailed) but there's a moment near the end of the video where I turn my back on Trico, and he does something to get my attention - it just about destroyed me. All of that could probably have happened in an Uncharted, with Sully instead of Trico. But I don't think it would have had that terrible sense of immediacy - that feeling that 'this is all actually happening right now, and it's happening to me' - even though I know that's what Uncharted is trying to do a lot of the time. Perhaps I just felt more for my dogbird friend than I will ever feel for a grouchy man in a Hawaiian shirt.
  16. The Last Guardian

    I've been thinking a lot about this game (still) and some of the ways in which it is difficult. I hope this doesn't read too much like a senseless apologia but it I do think it's worth thinking about the some of the (very) rough edges of this game and how/why they cause so much friction. One reason that the cutscenes become a stress point for the game is that as far as I could tell, they aren't 'cutscenes' in the conventional sense. It's not a case of the game taking control away from you to show you a series of previously rendered, locked-down sequences. Here, the camera is moving in a pre-determined way, and perhaps Trico is too; but the actual outcome of what happens is determined according to a ridiculously complex set of interacting physics and animation systems. Quite often the player is still technically in full control of the boy during all these action sequences - so even if you're just holding on to Trico's back as he leaps through the world, it's still possible to fall off if you're in a tenuous place on his body, or if he clips the scenery in just the right way. So I guess it's kind of inevitable that some of the trickiest moments will be those where (a) you're supposed to perform a very particular series of actions, very quickly and (b) there's a plethora of physics-based variables that can (and almost certainly will) mess you up. Whether any of this feels worthwhile to a player is ultimately down to them, I guess. For my own part I rarely enjoy the 'collapsing bridge' sections in the Uncharted games, and those aren't made much easier here. The camera is difficult in its own way. Unlike most third-person action games, it isn't locked to a fixed position behind the player-character's body. To me it felt like the camera is attached to one end of a long, invisible pole, with the boy as a balanced pivot in the middle of the pole - when you move the right stick, it pokes the camera on the tip of the pole left and right accordingly, but it still seems to 'float' a little of its own accord. And it does feel strange, and somehow old-fashioned: like a throwback to the PS1 era of 3D graphics atop pre-rendered backgrounds, except now everything is actually 3D and you're just nudging the camera around from time to time to re-frame the background while the action takes place in front of it. But I think all of this is entirely deliberate. I think they're trying to frame the world in such a way as that the player-character is not always the centre (literal or otherwise) of the experience. It is the opposite of the approach taken in, say, the GTA games, where the camera is locked so close that the player-character might as well be flailing forever in the middle of the screen while the rest of the world pans and slides around them. You don't often see an approach like TLG's today, but it does give you a very different sense of traversal. It's often pretty but not always helpful. And because the camera works in this way, it also facilitates something I've seen very few reviews mention - that when you press and hold the L1 button, it locks the view on Trico. The camera is still floating at the end of that pole - an object in the world, linked to the boy - but the lens swivels subtly to focus on your friend. It's a neat mechanical callback to ICO, where you had to hold down a shoulder button on the controller to hold hands with the girl. But it's also its own thing. You, the boy; in the world; looking at this creature - all those elements are there, in the moment of the holding of the button. I guess what all of this amounts to in my mind is the sense of being alone in a world which is indifferent to my presence; of having a limited amount of control over a life ultimately subject to the indifferent rules of the universe; of developing a relationship with the animal spirits that carry me through life, even though they sometimes bug out in unpredictable ways... (Oh, and I guess there's a video game, too.)
  17. Idle Thumbs 304: The Game Shack

    Very much enjoyed the Trespasser chat. Life being what it is I don't think I'll have the time to watch the streams of this stuff but I do appreciate the concise, illuminating summary. I can remember playing the demo of Trespasser back in the day and being totally fascinated/bewildered. I don't think I ever got further than picking up items and flinging them about in the initial areas, though when Nick mentioned that the game has no UI, I so dearly wanted him to mention that the player can check their health by looking down at the heart-shaping tattoo inked conveniently above the character's cleavage. Also, I wanted to mention that the things that now seem admirable in Trespasser - the way in which the systems-driven mechanics govern everything, even to the extent of stopping player progress - reminded me instantly of The Last Guardian, which works in very much the same way. Trico is considerably more sophisticated than those raptors; but TLG is very much a game which is unafraid to interfere with or even stop player progress if its systems don't quite align perfectly. A lot of the time this means deferring player enjoyment, which is perhaps why the game has had a fairly mixed critical reception. But where I think The Last Guardian excels is the way in which those systematic fail states contribute to the meaning and flow of the game; put simply, when everything comes together not because it had to but because it could, it feels so much sweeter. If anyone is interested I wrote more about this at length here (contains major spoilers from a point indicated). Sam Greer at Kotaku reached much the same conclusions here (with fewer spoilers). It is a really great game.
  18. Books, books, books...

    Miéville is one of my favourite contemporary writers; Perdido Street Station was the first thing I ever read by him (many years ago now) and I remember absolutely adoring it. It was one of those rare books that reminded me of why I love reading in the first place. It's just bursting at the seams with ideas, character, politics, colour, details - the absolute antithesis of the drab minimalism of 'realistic' literary fiction. I knew it was flawed then - and were I to re-read it now, those flaws would doubtless become more apparent - but even thinking of it now gives me a little giddy rush of enthusiasm. Regarding those revelations towards the end of the book - I wonder if you mean The academic blog Crooked Timber hosted an excellent series of essays on Miéville's work a few years ago. This post by CM himself, plus the attendant comments, is a nice example of an author engaging critically with his audience without the whole thing descending into troll wars or a typical Q&A snoozefest. It's rather long and covers a wide variety of topics but if you're interested in his thoughts on those tricky revelations in Perdido Street Station, CTRL+F your way down to part 2.2. I'm not sure he entirely exonerates himself but it's an interesting read regardless. Spoilers, obv. (Also, if you ever get the chance to see Miéville do a reading/Q&A in person, I'd highly recommend it - he is one of the few authors I've seen live who are as engaging in conversation as they are on the page.)
  19. Apparently there's a new patch out today for the game on Switch (and Wii U?) which fixes some things. Detective Neil Gaf and some folks I follow on twitter are saying it brings notable framerate improvements, so it's probably worth grabbing ASAP. On the subject of music, I remember reading an interview with Koji Kondo where he spoke about how most of the Zelda music was really about creating a sense of atmosphere, rather than the grand 'overworld' themes that people typically associate with that series. I think Breath of the Wild works wonderfully well in that sense; I still have to catch my breath when the sun hits a certain angle off the long grass, and the music responds with a few scattered piano chords. In a strange sense it reminds me of Minecraft - of how the music in that game will kick in when it doesn't feel like you're doing anything in particular, but how it seems significant despite that, or perhaps because of it... The one big musical moment that really got my attention so far was in a super incongruous place - it's during the glider challenge that becomes available after you finish a certain (very complicated) shrine quest. After a long period of fraught struggle, you launch yourself into the air to do this thing, and the game starts belting out this absolutely amazing, totally straightforward song - it's like the game says 'you've done the hard part, now go mess around'. It's glorious.
  20. The Idle Book Club 24: The Handmaid's Tale

    I've read this book two or three times, though not recently. I like it a good deal. At least twice I had to read it for a university seminar; I vividly recall how, in one of those, everyone in the class seemed united on how implausible a lot of the straightforwardly dystopian elements seemed. But that was back in 2009 or 2010, in the early Obama years, when (at least from a British perspective) it seemed like the anti-feminist, anti-choice currents in American politics had permanently consigned themselves to a sort of historical cul-de-sac. All of that seems terribly naive now. It made a lot more sense to us then when considered alongside the politics of the Reagan era. There's an interesting trope in all kinds of American media produced in the 1980s to look back to the 1950s, both for its style but also for a certain kind of moral certainty; and so we get Back to the Future, and a sort of post-punk pop culture that embraces post-war, mid-century aesthetics; but we also get the likes of Phyllis Schlafly harking back to strictly 'traditional' gender roles. The Handmaid's Tale is a pretty fierce critical look at that tendency. No doubt it reads very differently today. I still have trouble with dystopian fiction in the 1984 vein that assumes total authoritarian competence from its controlling powers; but in that regard I think The Handmaid's Tale offers a more interesting vision than most. Even the figures of authority felt to me like interesting, fallible human beings, and the intimacy of Offred's narrative in particular I always found intensely affecting. Yet there's other parts I still find hard to swallow. Where the world-building leaves grey areas, it's compelling, but where it pins stuff down I'm not always sure it works. The idea that women are no longer taught to read, for example; I've always found this less convincing than the idea that they might know how to read, but simply not want to read any more (a la Brave New World). Part of the problem is that the book's 'speculative fiction' approach is very specific, and doesn't really give much leeway for allegorical interpretations; either our times measure up, or they don't. But none of that really affects the quality of the book in my mind - I think its real potency exists as an account of a woman's life under an oppressive gender/class-based system, and for me at least the particulars of that system are something of a sideshow. Oh, and who knows what the HBO adaptation will be like, but I was surprised to discover that they already made a movie of the book from a script by Harold Pinter (!). I wonder if it could possibly be as good as this poster suggests.
  21. The Idle Book Club 23: Silence

    I finished this one somewhat later than expected since my book got lost in the post. Very much enjoyed the podcast, as usual.
  22. The intro to the podcast was a depressing reminder that I too used to pronounce 'chaos' in a strange and very wrong way (probably something like 'cha-ooos'). For some reason that error is forever associated in my brain with the Chaos Emeralds from the Sonic games, which I played pretty obsessively on the Game Gear when I was a small idiot. Very much enjoyed the Breath of the Wild chat otherwise, especially the comparisons with Metal Gear. I think MGS V does a much smaller range of things extremely well - particularly if you like sneaking around complex enemy bases and the ensuing outrage when you get noticed, which often makes it feel like a more refined version of the Far Cry 2 outpost system. And also like Far Cry 2, the game is so dedicated to that experience that everything else in the open world feels a little thin. But the scope of systems at play in BOTW is so much broader; it doesn't do stealth quite so well, but it also does a dozen other weird and interesting things that most games don't even attempt. If Nick ever finishes with the From Software oeuvre I'd love to hear what he (or any of the other Thumbs) makes of Dragon's Dogma, which was clearly another big influence on Breath of the Wild. It's a third-person open world action RPG with some of the oddest emergent systems and weirdest semi-hidden stuff I've ever seen in a video game.
  23. The Last Guardian

    I finished this for the first time a few nights ago. I'm surprised to find that nobody has written about it much here, so I thought I'd give this thread a little bump. I loved it. And finishing it has left me so perplexed and disappointed by the reception it's received. I feel like I'm alone somehow in how I feel about it, even though it seems to have received pretty good reviews on the whole. I've read and heard a lot, for example, about the 'bad' camera, and the heavy/loose feeling of the controls; but almost all of that frames the discussion in terms of technical 'problems' that ought to have been 'solved' by now, instead of looking at them as the result of deliberate creative decisions. As if making a video game were as simple as picking pre-made Good Solutions off a peg. It's depressing to think that the remarkable achievements of this game, both on a technical and artistic level, have gone largely overlooked - though actually I thought Steve Gaynor gave a great summary of this when he cited TLG as his GOTY for 2016. I can't deny it was frustrating. On a standard PS4, the console really struggles at times. I wish it were smoother. But that felt like a small price to pay for some of the most incredible things I've ever seen in a video game. There are so many moments here which had me calling over my partner, saying 'would you just look at this? Can't you see what they've done here?' even when they were as simple as Trico walking carefully towards me across a bridge. There are other difficulties. There's gameplay stuff - the occasional struggle with the enemies, the problems with getting Trico to go where you want. But if you ask me about this, I'm liable to become that awful jerk who insists that actually, it's meant to be frustrating. There are parts of the game that are about frustration, and terror, and waiting, and the awful certainty that you should be doing something but you can't. None of these things are supposed to be fun. (I really like this short blog by Ross Foubister on this aspect.) The finale, and the ending in its entirety, is utterly crushing. It's not how you think it's going to go, and I don't think you can really understand it without having played the rest of the game. It left me with that hole in the stomach feeling that I get after an adrenaline rush, or during profound anxiety. I was alone in the house when I finished it, and it made me tremendously upset. Not 'sad' upset, but a different, better, bigger kind of sadness. I think it's probably the best thing Ueda has ever done.
  24. Modest Tech: The NX Generation (Nintendo Switch)

    Last night I went to a little event hosted by The Guardian's games team to herald the launch of the Switch. They had a Q&A session with a group of developers, including the two brothers who developed Snipperclips, a couple of people from Chucklefish, and Martin Hollis (the designer of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark). They also had some Nintendo people running three consoles with 1-2 Switch and Snipperclips in the background. It was a nice time! There were loads of people there, and a palpable sense of excitement. My biggest takeaway was that indie developers seem to be finding it really easy to get their games on to this platform. Apparently Sumo Digital only started work on the Switch version of Snake Pass about 2.5 months ago, which is astonishing when you consider that the game is coming out later in March. The lead programmer on Wargroove was also impressed that he could bring that game over - which is running on his own engine - with very little trouble. So all things considered it seems like the Switch could easily become the console platform of choice for a certain kind of mid-tier title that might find it hard to get any attention on the 'big box' consoles.
  25. Ranking the Films of the Coen Bros.

    I tried to draw up my own list of Coen movies before coming to the conclusion that I just can't do it, even without numbers. I like all of them too much. (In fact, I was surprised to find that I have seen all of their movies, except for for The Man Who Wasn't There.) All the same, if you put a gun to my head, at the top would probably be Barton Fink. I feel a little ashamed to admit that - it seems so much like the most obviously outlandish, film school buff, dorm room poster choice. But I can't get away from it. Miller's Crossing and Inside Llewyn Davis would vie for second place, perhaps. Beyond that I can't see. I'm fascinated by the fact that movies like Hail! Caesar and Burn After Reading seem to mean very different things to different people. Both of those received a very mixed critical reception; I both, though they seem so far removed from the likes of Fargo and True Grit and No Country that I just find it impossible to compare them. Burn After Reading in particular always seemed to me like a highly prescient look at Bush-era stupidity; it now feels sharper and colder than ever, now that we're all so concerned with the security...of our shit. I would probably put O Brother, Where Art Thou? as the only significant work at the bottom of my list-which-is-not-a-list. It's not a bad movie, not by a long stretch; it does a lot of interesting things, but it's still my least favourite. I just don't think it's for me. (I also really don't like the cinematography, which makes it the only Coen bros movie for which I could possibly have this complaint.)