May 31 2007

Some Solid, Some Liquid

A twenty-six course meal, blogged by a man. Later unearthed by Craig.

The penultimate pudding was definitely the technical summit of the meal. It was called “Stiffy Tacky Pudding”. Each blob had to be eaten in sequence from left to right, chewing as we went, and not swallowing until they were all in. They were each a different component from sticky toffee pudding, some solid, some liquid, encased in a transparent gel, so they could be picked up by hand. This was flabbergastingly futuristic, like something from 2001 (the movie, not the year).

May 28 2007

Alexander Tucker

My current musical fixation: this fellow.

May 28 2007

The Largest Dial

Video of a giant sundial constructed in the sands around the Mont Saint-Michel abbey in Normandy.

Brings about vague memories of childhood holidays in northern France. I think I visited that abbey back in the mists of nipperdom.

May 28 2007

Draconian Measures

As reluctant as I am to link to this particular news portal, Daily Mail:

The Government has established a shadowy new national anti-terrorist unit to protect VIPs, with the power to detain suspects indefinitely using mental health laws.

The revelation is set to reignite the row over the Government’s use of draconian measures to deal with terror suspects amid accusations they are abusing human rights.

The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) was quietly set up last year to identify individuals who pose a direct threat to VIPs including the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Royal Family.

It was given sweeping powers to check more than 10,000 suspects’ files to identify mentally unstable potential killers and stalkers with a fixation against public figures.

The team’s psychiatrists and psychologists then have the power to order treatment – including forcibly detaining suspects in secure psychiatric units.

In conjunction with the ‘more powers for police’ story, the idea that doctors can be used to detain people (the story goes on to suggest they already have been used to detain terror suspects) certainly sets alarm bells ringing. The police already have powers to do pretty much anything they want, I can’t see what the clamouring for new powers does, except reinforce their ability to use the ones they already have.

Thanks to John for the link.

May 25 2007

Land Of The AutoBurger

Some of my favourite places in the world are motorway services in the UK. I like that they have no romance to them. They are simply for taking a piss, having a terrible cup of tea, and maybe playing Sega Rally. The physiological essentials of life.

(I also like that some dabble with function-free futurist architecture, such as the weird hexagonal faux traffic-control tower up at the top of the M6 near Lancaster, and I occasionally wonder if someone could get digs living above their grubby, truncated shopping malls – but that’s sort of irrelevant.)

I was, more relevantly, delighted to discover this Motorway services information and review website.

I particularly like that they have a gallery:

May 23 2007

Hi-Res Emotions

MFU by HC:

“How about more drugs,” I said, into the headset I’d taken off the dead pilot. “Lots more drugs — if it’s not too much trouble. And while you’re at it, let’s have more colors and deeper darknesses and richer histories and more intelligent timbres and new hi-res emotions from formerly restricted top-secret government databases, with real-time-interactive cartoon-animal user-interfaces.”

May 23 2007


I love this:

Linked from here, but I can’t find the original source.

May 23 2007

What’s This Then?

May 22 2007

Explorable Apocalypse Instant Update

One of the things I’ve written about Stalker has just gone up with the rest of The Escapist’s Post-Apocalypse issue:

Few games are as bleak as GSC Game World’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Then again, few games have appropriated the mythology, psychology and geography of the old Soviet Union, and fewer still have made intelligent use of both real-world disaster and obscure science fiction of the 20th century. Stalker’s first-person survival/horror themes exist in a space that is both real and grimly fantastical – a dimension of bending reality and of crumbling Soviet ruin.

Some peculiar choices for the illustration, but… okay, the whole issue is about gasmasks and burned skies. I guess they had to use that clip art of a disapproving middle-aged woman somewhere in there.

Also: robbed! Spanner wrote a piece about the game with the greatest name ever (lifted from a Harlan Ellison short) I HAVE NO MOUTH, AND I MUST SCREAM. Writing about that game has been on my ‘to do’ list of feature ideas for about five years. I can cross it off… for another five years, anyway.

May 22 2007

Stalk To The Monsters

I’m continuing to play Stalker. I intend to write some exciting things about the game, its themes, its “Zone Of Alienation”, and its relationship to science fictions past. I’m going to do a couple of different pieces in the next couple of months, both with a different focus. I’ll link them up here when they’re published.

Anyway, I’ve been playing through Stalker again from the beginning, patched up this time. It seems a little more solid, even down to the fights seeming less clumsy. You still can’t medipack crucial fallen NPCs, especially if they have a looped conversation tree, and you have to chat to them in their wounded state, squirming in agony as they text you information about Strelok. There are other bugs too, and I love them all equally.

What has struck me the second time around is that this is a game that really needs to be played a second time around. I saw plenty of interesting situations emerge last time thanks to the ‘life’ of the random NPCs and creatures, but this time many more interesting situations have arisen, and predicaments I found myself in the first time I played have simply not occurred.

The first fight in ‘Garbage’ for instance, was entirely skewed against the bandits this time, because a large group (at least six) of neutral stalkers came wandering through the area. I don’t think I saw a moving friendly group of that size in the entire first run through the game. These neutrals took out the entire bandit mob easily, and then went on to carve their way through the second group of bandits besieging the warehouse a little further across the map. All I had to do was shadow them and run along looting the bodies. Last time it had taken me several hours to get past the second group of bandits, so ruined was I by the first fight for the scrapheap. Later on a lone (and random) Duty soldier cleaned out a mob of bandits I was having trouble with by virtue of him being armoured up and having a decent assault rifle – things that are way beyond me at this stage.

I was chatting to Ste Curran at the weekend about exploration in games. His thought was that lots of games had learned the wrong lessons from Tomb Raider – and that’s why we were now stuck with so many tightly scripted linear action adventures with hot girls as the main character. What we should have got was games that were about exploring (raiding?) tombs or otherwise. Most of what the original Tomb Raider did was in the spirit of exploration, that seems to have been deliberately discarded by the games that followed.

I think Half-Life and Half-Life 2 have a similar legacy – their exploration is only really exploration by virtue of the designers being able to propel you forward continuously along their rail, which is another reason why FPS games become so bad when you get stuck. You need constant inertia, constant travel, to hide the fact that you can only really head in a single direction.

I wonder whether games like Stalker and Just Cause might help game designers relearn the love of creating modes of exploration, rather than creating carefully crafted linear sequences. No matter how beautiful and variable an arena area in Half-Life 2 or FEAR, I still get more excited about the singular, random things that I’ve managed to achieve in Stalker.

I’m sure there’ll be more on this exploration theme in the coming weeks. It’s really bugging me.

Random final thought: I’ve been criticised for “not understanding” Second Life on the basis that it should be treated as a communication tool, of the lineage of static chatrooms, IRC, and ICQ-style chat programs, rather than as anything like a “game”. It’s almost a fair criticism, but I think it arises from the fact that I write for a gaming audience, and have developed my writing to address them. I can’t recommend it to gamers, precisely because it is barely a game at all. Were I writing for a chat-client crowd (could that even be a distinct net-culture grouping?) then I think my angle and response might have been quite different.