Monday, January 23, 2012

Post-Portal rant

Hey Guys.

So, after acquiring Portal late last year (like, August/September/October [I downloaded a bit of the file at a time]), and then spending the next few months deciding to play it only after semester had finished, I finally sat down and gave it a go.

It follows that this blog post should be dedicated to what I thought of the game.

I started playing yesterday arvo, when it was discovered that the darling rabbit had eaten through the video cable for the PS2. Essentially, you would have the same amount of fun with it as someone with no sight. The audio cables were still intact, but my temper was not. So, I sat down in protest and hijacked my sister's desk so I could play Portal, because it was on my computer and I was still keen for some gaming.

The handling experience was quite different to anything I have tried before. First-person is usually something reserved for shoot-em-up games, and since I don't play a lot of those, I frankly stink at them. The most experience I could speak for would be the couple of weeks I spent playing LAN Halo on computers at school. Even then, I had all the tactical ability of Michael J. Caboose.

Which is not much.

So, we've established that I am much more used to the handling of games such as Zelda, Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. Which are all good games in their own right. Franchises. Whatever. I think better when I can see the back of the character's head.

But the puzzles, and the physics! I've never seen something so wondrous! And Valve is paying me nothing. But the teleport/portal setup kept the physics and gravity intact. Flinging was a lot of fun, once you got the hang of it. Oh. Flinging?
Set up a portal on the wall. Set up a portal on the ground. Jump into the one on the ground and you fall out of the one on the wall at the same speed as you were falling. Fall faster or further, and you fling further.

<speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out>

according to GLaDOS. The passive-agressive evil robot.

But purely concerning the puzzles? It forced me to think. Not just grind through levels like every other game I try. Sure, there are moments when you're stuck, but the Block Puzzles I've done in Zelda and Golden Sun games are probably the closest 'large challenge'. Some of the stages were a matter of trying the same thing over and over again, because all you needed was some more momentum. Or you had to fire a portal in midair and for someone who can't drive first person video games, that is very hard. So, I get cranky. I yell at the screen, at GLaDOS, at the portal placement; anything. Talking to myself is my second-worst habit. (The worst is mumbling.) So, when my sister decided to talk to one of her mates last night, he also got to participate in my vented frustration at being unable to escape before getting incinerated. Or falling in the water. Portal device doesn't like the water. Just something you should note.

But, offsetting the cranky is the sheer exhilaration when finally, you manage to throw yourself in the right direction and land where you need to. Or you figure out where to stick the next portal. Or figure out how to use a gun when all you've got is an enemy missile launcher that only shoots at you and is five rooms away.

That is all okay. The sense of being rewarded at the end was greater than any lie-based cake that someone could cook up for me. I am Chell. And we are assuming the Party Escort Submission Position and going to that party.

(I realise how unstructured this post is. I also realise how weird 'party escort submission position' sounds to someone not familiar with Portal. it is lying down on the ground with your hands behind your head so the party escort robot can drag you away back into that incinerator I mentioned earlier.)

Told you GLaDOS was evil.

But not the cackling type of evil. It's like, passive aggressive to the max. And it's a lot of fun to imitate from time to time.

Once again, to someone unfamiliar with the series, this is bound to cause confusion.

I often find myself singing the lyrics to 'Want You Gone', which is from the Portal 2 soundtrack. It is the credits from the game. And, like the first, it is written from and sung by GLaDOS. So, passive agressive and mildly humorous. Prue tells me off for it though; citing that it is about 'someone hating someone else'.

But Prue, GLaDOS doesn't hate Chell. She only wants her gone.

See? This is what happens when you eat too much chocolate and spend your whole day being a taxi service and babysitter for your sisters. You write poorly-structured blog posts and spend the rest of the evening shooting nerf darts at the ceiling.

Well. It sounds good to me.

In short? Portal is spoon-bendingly awesome. It challenges the way you think in a game, and makes you use more than just the physical infrastructure of the platform. It has a good storyline which is enjoyable to some back to, which you will, because it's only a short game.

Also, I apologise to my other readers who may feel slightly alienated by the rambling and the specific nature of the blog post subject. Consider it a rant, and do with it what you want.

If you really want, you should give Portal a go. My laptop (herafter known as Shirosaki) handles it okay, so most other computers should be fine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why we need Watson

The last two weeks, I have been immersed in the 'ness' of Sherlock Holmes.

None of it has been canon.

The first experiences have been through the newly released film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

While I would dearly love to discuss the film, I'm appreciating that there are probably a lot of people who haven't seen it yet. So, I'll keep spoilers to a minimum and save that one for a later date.

Besides, Hollywood is not the purpose of the blogpost.

...where else to begin? Ah.

The last three days, we've been watching the BBC series titled Sherlock. It's a modern television adaption of the canon, with individual episodes lasting 90 minutes.

The Sherlock of each series is different. They show different sides to the personality/enigma/thing that we understand the detective to be.

First, the Holmes played by Robert Downey Jr.

For a short period of time in 2010, I worked at the local cinema in my hometown. This has relevance because I was working when the first Sherlock film was still screening. Something I noticed at work happening on more than one occasion was old ladies walking out of the film while it was still screening. Many of them either muttered on their way out or they complained to us about the film.

Their problem? This Sherlock did as much beating people up with his fists as he did with his mind. This incarnation of Sherlock seemed to break the rules of 'deerstalker cap' that had so long been set in place. So, Sherlock is brilliant. Sherlock is also master of whatever fighting art he possessed in the books (it's legit. Baritsu. Check it out.) Third, we see that Sherlock has some difficulties slotting in with society. His gifts of reading a person don't seem to extend to speaking to the person with compassion. As Mary and her glass of wine attest to.

The other Sherlock is played by a guy called Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (which has got to be one of the best names I have ever encountered in terms of sheer awesome-sounding properties). He looks like this.

Cumberbatch's incarnation has done some action scenes. Not a whole lot. And most of those he spent trying not to get bashed. But he is a thinker. Crazily so. And there is a lot of emphasis in his character on his inability to work with society.

"What must it be like to live inside your little brains?"

I think that both men focus on different parts of the Holmes character. The BBC adaption is probably the slightly more accurate to the character, but sheer Hollywood attests to the why. You've only got two hours to impress a character of awesome. Explosions are always a good way to do that. Explosions and ramping. (you know, that cinematographic effect where they suddenly chuck the film into slow-motion and then speed it up again?). And nothing says 'cool' about a character like the way he giftwraps his opponent after wiping the floor with their sorry rear end.

Simply? Hollywood and America would rather see him beat someone with his fists than do the equivalent to his mind.

Just for the heck of it, I would one day love to see some kind of crazy mash-up between Gregory House and Calvin Lightman and Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure they'd get along great.

But. I didn't title the post 'Why we need Holmes'.

So, Watson has to have some part of the conversation.

The Edwardian (Hollywood) adaption has Jude Law.

The BBC production has Martin Freeman, who is the guy who played Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

As the difference is between Sherlock and Sherlock, so there is between Watson and Watson. Jude Law spends more time beating people, and Martin Freeman spends a lot of time as the butt monkey. Both of them wear homely pieces of clothing. (Although this is only noticeable with Watson in the second film when he is wearing the scarf that Mary made for him). Both of them spend a lot of time entertaining Sherlock and trying to enable him to mesh properly with society.

This is where I started to notice something.

It's been established then that Sherlock is lacking in the human quality known as Compassion. The ability to Sympathise, Empathise and do anything but synthesise facts and data, because that is all Holmes knows. And in that area, he is brilliant.

But we can't appreciate him. Not properly, anyway. With just Holmes, we have an egocentric, overpowered character, whose purposes and plans are above us mortals. We could not understand or relate without Holmes' counterpart, Watson.

It is as though Watson has enough compassion to make up for Holmes' gross deficiency. He does the legwork. He is the butt of the jokes. He struggles.

Holmes' character is incredibly interesting. But it's not, strictly speaking, human. We relate better to Watson. Understand his struggles and his emotions because 1) the stories are always written from his perspective, and 2) he isn't the genius.

For a long time I've noticed this. We admire the genius. We are impressed by him. But we never want to be him. Maybe this is Tall Poppy Syndrome, endemic to the masses of Australians (and believe me. I've experienced the nasty end of it). Maybe it is because the genius, excellent as he is, has so few people to relate to in the upper echelon of brainpower.

So, Holmes has the superpowers. But Watson balances him out. Creates a duo we can see, read about and be amazed without being put off by how perfect they are. That bit is important. It is what stops them from turning into Marty-Stu's (the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue).

It's as important as the role of Sam in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkein had purposed Hobbits with the task of carrying the Ring. Why? Because they are the weak. They are the peaceful. They are the pure of heart. We see Frodo try to give up the Ring within moments of inheriting it in the first book (or movie). The meek triumph.

And it is Frodo who has to bear the burden. We still get to see the stuggle, but the burden of bearing the Ring turns Frodo into something beyond the reach of the ordinary character. He must carry the plot; assimilated into the workings of the story. We cannot relate with Frodo. But that is why Sam is there.

Sam struggles. He worries and frets and remains faithful to his friend and his charge. Remember, Gandalf tells him to watch over Frodo. To look after him. And into Mordor they go. Walking simply, so to speak. Frodo turns into a plot piece. Sam stays human, though. Well, Hobbit. Something.
Anyway, his role as the chronicler continues as the story keeps on. He's the onlooker, but we identify with him because of his compassion and necessity to the hero. It's not Sam who sails off at the end, either.

Sam Gamgee. John Watson.

Neither are the main character. But they are so much more than sidekicks. We see and identify with them better than with the character they are seen interacting with because they are not above the noise and the hubris. They're in the thick of it.

Which goes to show.

People relate better to something that experiences what they experience. They falter at what makes us falter, and even though there's someone who is more than capable of one-upping them, they keep going. They don't fear their own humanity. Or Hobbitanity. Look, is it just easier if we think of the race of Man in Lord of the Rings as something else entirely? The Hobbits are the ones who we cheer on, anyway.

And honestly, without Watson, Sherlock is just a Sociopath with nothing to redeem him from being one ole nasty....


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Backlog: the things I wish I'd told you about

So, henceforth begins the mile-long absent note, or excuse, or list. Anyway. Many things happened last year. I think it was probably the most manic year I have lived yet. So much went down, and there was also a lot that I didn't blog.

So, here's the blog post shortlist of things that happened last year that I didn't post.

The rest of London.

My overseas trip at the start of last year was something insane and unforgettable. I wish I had blogged more of this because it was interesting, amusing. Sometimes slightly terrifying. Like the first couple of days I spent in the city when I kept getting lost. Or the debilitating effects of jet lag. Wait. I've told you about those.

Everything from the Metro in Paris that reeked of urine to the wooden box I bought in Portobello road and got through customs. There was a lot that I could have talked about.

hey, wait. picture = 1000 words. yes?

London in pictures.

Trafalgar Square. Wet on windy days.

Moot is in this picture of an anatomically incorrect lion.
Watch for long enough and you'll see Sora and company.
Flipping enormous door at St. Pauls. Moot is in this picture also.
St. Pauls in all its Baroquian glory.
Graffiti hunt.
Me and Fat Watson at 221b Baker St. I wanted Jude Law.
My mate the Squirrel at Regents Park
Westminster Cloisters
A postcard I sent to a friend. I adjusted it.
Sightings of the TARDIS at Earles Court
Julian the photographer I met at Kyoto gardens. We took photos of the Peacocks.
Said Peafowl and Moot. Moot felt slightly stressed.
Beanbag stack at Camden
Portobello Road
It came after the Strawhenge and Stickhenge.
Bath at Bath
There was the stump of what I hoped was a lime tree in the front yard.
Me and Will.
And this kinda gives away the photo of me and Will.
Stairs at Tooting Bec Underground station. I ran up these.
Peter at Kensington.
Best tree at Kensington.
Look! Muggles replaced the fake wall with another fake wall!

There was more to London. And there's more to the Backlog. I'll do what every other franchise in Hollywood is doing at the moment and create a couple more sequels, not because I am running out of ideas, but because shortly I am heading down to the archery range again and I have to go find my kit. Happy viewing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living with your eyes shut

Dreams are weird, okay?

I frequent various blog-type websites, and whenever I hear something about dreams pop up, tend to click on it for the heck of it. Want to know what they reveal?

Absolutely nothing.

There's arguments ranging from dreams being a replay of the day's events to it even being some kind of portent of the future. I'll hang onto the latter because I know that that one happens to be true. It's happened before. In the case of the former, I shake my head.

Because I'm pretty sure that nothing was said about The Fridge yesterday to make me believe that for some reason I was driving it again last night.

Now, The Fridge was the second Tarago our family had. We're onto the third now, and sold the car a little while after I began driving. This means that the first car I actually drove was the '88 Tarago. I called it a fridge for a reason. It looked something like this.

The main difference being that ours was white, and had hubcaps with a Holden badge on them. Note the enormous forty centimetres of crumple zone. The car was a sod, but it was enough for Dad to teach me the concept of a gearbox.


Now I know where it came into conversation yesterday.

I had been telling Prue about how I had 'chucked a doughie' before. [Read: donuts.] It was probably our second or third outing to the industrial area down the road. It's basically a really big loop, with a grass-topped middle-bit where people park their cars.

It was the end of my lesson, and there were no cars parked on the grass. So Dad had me mount the kerb and tear up the grass in an effort to learn about the tachometer. It succeeded, sort of. And just for the record, it is possible in an old Tarago, whose poor handling is only exceeded by its descendants, which for some odd reason feel like I'm driving a blimp.

But go figure. I drive an old sports car from the eighties with sports suspension and no understanding of concepts like 'electric windows', 'central locking' or 'power steering'. But I love that car to bits.


Well, writing as I am thinking is fun. What else can I tell you about the Fridge?

It looked like a fridge. It certainly had the handling of one. Oh. It was nearly impossible to lock.

We had some weird system that used its sliding windows to unlock the car. Because the sliding door couldn't lock unless it was closed or something.

This fact seems inconsequential. But it is important. It was important last night because I had to lock the car and couldn't. Damn theta waves.

And Zombies. If I have a nightmare, I can guarantee that if I have a nightmare, it will have zombies. Sometimes they are your stock-standard shufflers. Sometimes they are the rage-virus type (watching even parts of 28 weeks later was a bad idea). Sometimes they decide to get steamy with some other type of villain, producing such odd offspring that in all seriousness, I found myself fleeing zombie daleks. Whose weakness was orange juice.

And then we wake up and examine the facts in rational daylight and laugh. What? Zombie Daleks? Come on.

They were terrifying while I was asleep, honest.

So sometimes. Wait. Most of the time. Dreams might have some tie with whatever happened during the day. Most of the time it makes no sense because it gets mashed into other things that happened during the day or you're all running away from Zombie Daleks while looking for the Maccas orange juice because it's the most acidic and therefore super effective.

Half of the time you've discovered something amazing and then you wake up disappointed because it doesn't exist. Half of the time you wake up relieved that it doesn't, usually because whatever it was came at some great cost, or you accidentally hit someone with it and that made no sense either, because the person was in Switzerland at the time.

Maybe I'm the only one that this happens to. Hmm. No. Surely not.

And then, there's the one percent of dreams that you wake from where you not only remember what went down with perfect clarity, but they were completely brilliant in more than just the one sense. Because there was enough of a mashup of everything that you couldn't trace the original source. And because it would make a pretty good story.

I've had this happen a grand total of three times. One of those became the basis for my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or simply NaNo) project. It was fun.

Could it have been a portent? I guess.
I mean, not in the 'you are going to use this time travel device to stop a gang leader from committing terrorist acts', but in the 'you are going to write a story about a guy who uses this time travel device to stop a gang leader from committing terrorist acts'

The novel was called 'Shift'. Incidentally, it was also the reason why there was no new material posted to the blog during November and early December. I've got excuses for the other months I've been away too, honest.

I guess to a degree, I enjoy dreaming. Sometimes. It makes sense at the time, and then refuses to gel correctly with reality upon waking. Sometimes you wake up completely bewildered. Terrified.

And then your mind wipes itself and you go back to doing real life stuff. Weird.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Jigokucho - The Hell Butterfly

Once upon a time.

Or, to be more specific, in year 10. I'd been hanging out with my friend group. In year 9 and 10, I'd hung out with Josh's friends, who eventually became my mates also. There was always an interesting balance of 'I am your friend' and 'I am the girlfriend of your friend' vibes and I was by nature rather volatile with the guys. It was the grand old time and I loved it.

This story starts when, one spring morning, we were enjoying recess break. Eating, standing around, enjoying the sun. We were standing in the general circle-clump of friends when I noticed something creeping around the rear left of my peripheral vision.

I didn't know what it was but it was big and black and full of malice. I balked and flailed wildly at the black thing, screaming in surprise.

The other guys immediately turned and I backed from the giant black shape; thinking that the face-sucking demon would cause my end within the seconds I had to react.

And I turned to see a palm-sized butterfly float on by, no doubt confused by the shriek of the pink-demon it had sailed past.

Perhaps it was some kind of omen, or maybe the butterfly belonged to a select group of daredevil butterflies who laughed in the face of their mortality and flew routes which scraped along the closest, most dangerous large structures they could find - like the wingsuiters of the insect kingdom or something.

By that time, it didn't matter. The butterfly was not a face-sucking demon and I was laughed at heartily by my mates for screaming like the fifteen-year-old girl I was.

But get this.

A couple of years later, while sitting on the bus destined for the school snow trip, I was introduced to this anime series by another friend. We crowded around the tiny ipod screen, sharing a pair of headphones while I squinted at the sega logo and wondering what the hell was going on with that bear/lion thing.

Pictured: Kon, the 'adorable' plush mascot and cousin of pedobear

That series is called Bleach. It's an action/adventure/supernatural story about a boy who can see ghosts and a girl spirit who is in charge of governing the good and the bad ones. The story gets interesting when an evil ghost threatens the boy's family and the girl is incapacitated. In an act of desperation, the girl gives the boy her ability to fight the evil ghost. He turns out to be some absolute legend in the department of beating ghosts and the story goes on.

The boy's name is Ichigo.
The girl's name is Rukia.

And that episode is called 'the day I became a Shinigami'.

Shinigami is a generic term. It's Japanese. Translates literally as 'Death god'. Think of a reaper. Like, the guy with the cape and the scythe and the bones.

Bleach's Shinigami aren't bones. But that's a bit off-topic.

Um. Um. Um. Relevance.

The girl, when she first walks into Ichigo's house, is accompanied by a black swallowtail butterfly. The butterfly shows up a couple more times in the episode as a portent, because it is a part-time companion for the shinigami. The rest of the time it is the guide when the shinigami travel between their world and ours.

Big black butterfly.

Can you, understanding my problems with blurring fiction and reality and nerd tendencies, see where this is going?

Whether this is clear or not makes no difference.

It's become more common now; I'll see one every so often and smile. Because that butterfly has become more than just a face-sucking demon. Well. Less. More.

I grin when I see one. Because, in my sad understanding of reality, it means that there's either a reaper chilling somewhere, or that it's my own jigokucho.

Just joking. I know where reality is. It's called a 'willing suspension of disbelief'. You do it all the time when you go and watch movies. I just use it to smile a little more.

Oh, and another thing.

This butterfly exists. It's called a double-branded crow. Also known as Euploea sylvester.


This is a photo I snapped of one that landed in my grandmother's back yard. It decided to hold still after I'd spent twenty minutes previously chasing it around the yard with the camera. I'm well aware that it's not swallowtail-shaped. Just read and smile, okay?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Owl City

Hey all.

At this stage, I could apologise profusely for neglecting the blog. I could tell you about all the things I've been doing in the interim that have held my efforts as opposed to blogging about them. I could backlog everything from last year that I was going to post and yet didn't.

But that would make for a sloppy post. So, there will probably be a slight backlog. But until then.

Sorry that I've been away for the last three and a half months.

That's all you're getting, otherwise this is just going to be slow and painful and completely unnecessary.

This was an idea that I realise I had early last year and just didn't post. But we'll get along with it and we can both move on from fourth-wall antics.

Sometime in March last year, I started listening to Owl City a lot more.

Most people understand Owl City as 'The Fireflies guy' and immediately react appropriately.


Bad Lyrics

Four Chords



And then a bit more. And they're right. As far as quality music, or music that requires a musician, Owl City will not get you very far. Adam Young, the one-man-band, has successfully created multiple albums of music with odd lyrical construction, overused synthetic sounds and so much autotune that the appropriate phrasing would be 'do you want some singing with that autotune?'

And yet I started listening around about March last year.


Owl City might not have much going for it in terms of music requiring musical ability. There's not much to say for an artist who classifies his work as 'DreamPop'.

But it was kind of like an antidepressant.

Providing details would be considering oversharing, which is not the goal here. But when almost every other piece of music I owned had memories of stuff I needed to not think about ingrained into it, a source of music that was completely brainless in composition was pretty ideal.

I would get to smile. To bob along. To laugh mockingly at the meaningless lyrics in 'Dental Care'. And for a while, forget that my mental picture of the world needed reforming because there was someone missing.

Brainless music. Sweet oblivion. And sometimes, lyrics would pop up that I'm certain would sound better if they weren't generated by a computer. Take my favourite, Meteor Shower, for example.

"I can finally see,
that you're right there beside me.
I am not my own,
for I have been made new.
Please don't let me go,
I desperately need you."

Adam Young, you have blended elementary rhyming technique with 1 Corinthians 6.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

New International Version (NIV)
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

If this is the case, then the argument is that mister Young is not singing to some girl. There are other biblical references that pop up in other songs. But I'm not here to prove that. I just happen to think it is interesting. Maybe worth a bit more than 'pfft'.

What else is there to say?

A while back, a friend of mine wrote an article comparing the quality of music to the quality of food. Things that we both consume. Things that have different levels of quality.

Tom went on to argue that the quality of music degenerates from live to autotune in the same way that food grown at the farm will always trump greasy fast-food or the dodgy kebab store in town.

If we follow this, I would compare Owl City to Macdonalds. Is the food that good for you? Not really. Does grease taste good when faced with emotional instability? You tell me. Is it cheap and easy to find? Certainly.

It's like...the small, greasy indulgence. I don't mind listening to it. And I hope that my friends who agree on it being 'the most punchable band in the universe' (according to Triple J) can at least tolerate me for it.

It's not the worst habit I could have picked up.

I mean, I could have gone down the path of Mary-Sue crossovers, fan fiction and yaoi.

But seriously? Yaoi?

No. Not even once. Ewwww.