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adam1808 Blog

This "Future" Scares Me

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The reason I have a blog; write blogs, read blogs, is because in doing so I'm not thinking about other things. When I started writing back in late 2010 this page was designed to be escapism by words. Games in general are things that effect the present. In writing about games, I'm generally not thinking about where my life is going in a year's time or in a decade's time. After spending a day sick, exhausted and consequently dejected sorting through my prospects for my inevitable tertiary education I've realised why I still write blogs. It's because I really, really didn't want to face all this.

I'm in my last year of high school. Stress is another thing that keeps your mind firmly rooted in the now. I generally live week to week, deadline to deadline. There hasn't been the time to stop and wonder what 2013 is going to look like.

My problem, and its always been my problem, is that I know what I want yet I'm not sure if it can happen. I want to become a journalist and write things down so people can read them and make up their own minds. This is a recent discovery, mostly due to my time as part of the "press corps" during the Singapore Model United Nations, (i.e. Schools send the seniors off to research what the UN is hot and bothered about, then debate about it as if it was the genuine article). I wrote an article that was censored because it called into question the conduct of one of the administrators who was trying to influence the debate along what she thought was the right lines. I don't know whether you could call it a "scoop", but it was the closest thing for a student-run magazine whose intended function was to interview people and make the conference seem like heaven on earth.

It's a long story, and not one I intend to elaborate on here. But from that moment on I knew that there was something important and exhilarating about finding out things that people ought to know. If haven't already, you should try reading Terry Pratchett's The Truth. It's the only book I've read to date that encapsulates that feeling of why "news" is important and having complete strangers come up to me and comment on a situation then wouldn't have known about if not for my work made me understand what Pratchett was getting at.

As I sifted through prospectus after disturbingly cheerful prospectus today, I started to wonder whether this pipe dream is possible, whether I as good-but-not-great student with an affinity for history and english could make a living in a dying industry. There's no course that screams "this course will make you prime journalistic material sunshine" and when it comes to using my intelligence I like it when I'm treated like an idiot. Instead, the world of tertiary admissions is a nebulous list of prerequisites and provisos. If I get x then I can take y course, if I screw up and get z then I can only get into w. If I stop looking at these labyrinthine websites, can I stop thinking about this altogether?

My parents, my friends and especially my infinitely-patient careers advisor all ask me what do I think I'm good at. My reply is always a different version of "I'm good at (insert subject a,b and c) but I have no idea whether I'm good enough". Am I good enough? You have no idea how much hinges on that question for me. There's a difference between being a high-flyer and being a low-flyer occasionally supported by regular gusts of wind.

These numbers, these "prerequisites" are all going to be decided in November. 80% of everything gets nailed down over a period of two weeks. Up until the moment that it's all over, I am never going to believe that I get the required marks and even then, whether they'll actually lead to anything. Self doubt and uncertainty, Probably the two character traits that your average employer frowns upon, or maybe the two character traits that are contributing to this sense of paralysis.

A marketing man writes these pages and logs these numbers. Records the benchmarks determined by supply and demand, the minimum requireds and typical offers that make the next year's prospects as clear as mud. I don't know okay, what number will come out of two weeks of academic hell. But decide now, don't wait for evidence or justification or some sort of reason why you think you'll do this well in 4 month's time. Here's a shiny pamphlet to help you choose.

Know thyself. Socrates obviously wasn't a teenager when he coined that one. Right now, I don't want to think about my "future" because every step of the way has a question mark over it, courtesy of my own self-doubt and the fact that everyone else I know is certain of the inevitable success of me.

I shouldn't have to think about this. Scratch that, I should have to think about this but I'm mentally incapable of doing so properly. I've spent the past few years nailing down what defines me, I'm not ready to turn around and say "here's how it's going to go" with any sort of authority. Faith in one's abilities is something I've yet to master, until then it's all just "future" and it seems insane that people like me are being asked to carve a path when they barely know if they can or not.

Thus, I'm using this blog as the name blog implies. Maybe if I write a thousand or so words about how I don't think I'm good enough to be paid for writing a thousand or so words, I can escape this screen full of "future" and all its promises that I don't believe. I can't make these decisions. Not yet, I don't think I'm good enough.

The Emotion Device

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(This blog contains all sorts of awesome spoilers about the ends of games such as LA Noire, Halo Reach, Fable 2, Gears 2, Bastion, HL2 Episode 2 and Uncharted 3. If you haven't finished all this goodness then you've obviously got work to do don't you? Anyway if you're sensitive about such things I'm putting this here as insurance against petulant comments)

Games love death. The majority of involve characters you know dying, societies you're familiar with dying and you ensuring that the people in front of you are dying as fast as possible. When a developer says they want the player to cry, it generally means someone you're familiar with in that world is going to snuff it. The music will swell, there'll probably a close up of the protagonist looking distraught and at this point you're supposed to choke up, tear up and tell your friends about this emotional experience. In short, death is an easy way of trying to elicit a response and it's infuriating to me that as a device, it's slowly losing its impact.

Death is used in games because it's the universal touchstone for the human condition. Everyone dies, everyone's lives have been influenced in some way by the deaths of others or the fear of death itself. It's impossible to separate death from an emotional response, which is why its become tear-jerk device 101 when a game is trying to make you feel emotional.

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Right now. Be emotional, a person you vaguely know got shot

With games like the original Max Payne or Bioshock, death is narrative justification. You're supposed to feel sorry for Max and want to help Atlas avenge the bits of his dead family strewn about the floor. Although this kind of insta-impetus has become as hackneyed as the vengeful anti-hero itself, it doesn't irritate me nearly as much as the moment where the writers decide to kill off a character in a game and turn to you expectantly for the sob.

This death-fatigue was inspired a few days ago when I revisited Uncharted 3, having forgotten most of what is essentially a string of set-pieces held together by spit and Nolan North. There's a point near the end of the game, as is so often the case, where Sully is perceived to have been killed. Shot dead, blammo, blood blooming through the shirt, the shocked expression, everything that the modern game can do to emphasise that a character you have come to like has just bought it. This is of course, a device to make you shocked and angry. Suddenly, you're supposed feel like you want to beat those who just shot Victor Sullivan into a bloody mess because your friend Victor Sullivan is dead. And you're supposed to get emotional when someone dies right?

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Unfortunately, I've seen so many characters that I have a connection with hear the gunshot and do the wide-eyed expression of horror. I've seen grizzled space-marines blow their own heads off with shotguns. I've seen a sheepdog jump in front of a bullet. I've seen girlfriends thrown off buildings by weird men from the future and even when the moment has been treated with care the impact is lessened each time. I'm jaded, I don't get choked up about the deaths of even the most personable and relatable characters in games because now it's an expected plot point.

Final Act: Weird revelation, character you care about dies, boss battle, End Credits. Remember the second bit? You supposed to get all sobby and angry there.

Death is cheap. It's the lowest common denominator for getting an emotional reaction out of you and it's getting to the point where I'm never going to choke up at even the most harrowing and dramatic image of a friendly character dying.

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Never has NPC death lacked weight and emotional complexity more than the Carmine family saga

The main issue I have with the "emotional death" in games is the fact that they remove the complexity of death. At most you'll see a line of coffins with a pensive-looking Commander Shephard gazing over them, or maybe some nice virtual tears. In L.A Noire, which I just finished recently, death was used in a way that actually made sense.

For those of you who have now proven yourself immune to spoilers, in the end Cole Phelps helps his rival Jack Kelso out of the storm drain just before he himself is hit by a wall of water. His mistress Elsa Lichtmann begins crying in full force and you're supposed to dwell on the fact that Cole made the ultimate sacrifice. But what is infinitely more interesting about the death of Cole Phelps is that is HAD to happen. Despite his repeated attempts to redeem himself for the atrocities he sanctioned during the war, Cole Phelps couldn't go on living and not be held accountable for his actions. Furthermore, we actually get to see the true aftermath, the funeral, where Cole's eulogy is given by the man who sold him out and his estranged wife is nowhere to be seen. Here, death is actually used in a way that displays the impact on the people around the character beyond the initial reaction to his death. Games just don't do this, they expect the sight of someone kneeling over a corpse and the orchestral music to drive home the same single note that we've been belted over the head with again and again.

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The irony of Earle hamfistedly trying to deliver a eulogy for a man he despised spoke volumes more than a tearful sendoff ever could.

Perhaps the most powerful death I've ever experienced in a videogame was in the final moments of Half Life 2: Episode 2 when Alyx's dad Eli got his spinal cord punctured and brain sucked out by the Combine. The reason this moment had serious weight was because you cared about Alyx, the girl who you fought with you and earned your respect back in Half Life 2. Alyx was overwhelmed by that moment and you felt her pain despite the fact that you never thought of Eli as anyone other than a kindly old man.

But trust Valve; the only developers in the world who would have the restraint to only give you the suped-up Gravity gun for 20 minutes, to make you feel for someone else's sorrow. The emotion comes from sympathy for something you may have experienced yourself: watching a friend grieve over the loss of a parent.

But why use death at all? Why do we need to be reminded every time we play a game not made by Nintendo that people die and that sucks? Because no matter how desensitised I've become from all these untimely deaths, it still works sometimes. Death should still be powerful. We all have to deal with it and see its effect on others and that needs to remain resonant.

There are so many aspects of the human condition that games can explore other than death, because only a handful of developers seem to touch on the periphery and consequences surrounding the death of a person who was part of other people's lives.

It would probably be remiss of me not to end with an example of something emotional, something that choked me up that didn't involve someone dying and surprise, it came from what I consider to be the finest game of 2011. In the Take Zulf Ending sequence of Bastion, Supergiant Games even used the emotional music like Part 2 of every other Final act in a game. But it works, because it's an moment about honour and courage and the ability to do the noble thing in spite of the wrongs that another did to you.

For those of you who haven't played Bastion and haven't experienced 2011's most emotionally engaging ending: Go. Buy. Play. For the rest: Here's that thing that got you all choked up again.

The Hardcore Crowd

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As part of my misguided quest to own every decent PS3 exclusive, I recently picked up Uncharted the third. Though I fall squarely behind the majority view that Drake's Deception is inferior in numerous ways to its predecessor, I still genuinely enjoyed the single-player and missed out on the multiplayerness.

The last Uncharted's multiplayer was something of a surprise at the time. It was neither tacked on or antithetical to what makes Uncharted different from every other multiplayer shooter at the time. It played like you would expect Uncharted to play, except you were pulling culturally-insensitive teenagers off ledges rather than dastardly mercenaries. What made Uncharted 2's online play so enjoyable was its focus on skillful movement and the willingness to do dumb things that might just catch the other team off-guard.

Turns out that a significant number of people have spent the 2 and a bit years since Uncharted 2's release honing their dumb-fun skills to a point because after a few matches Uncharted 3 has seen fit to plonk level 13 me in the open sea to swim with people who have hit the level cap. Now I have no idea how matchmaking in Drake's Deception works. If my assumption that it's based on player level is correct, then Uncharted 3 is broken. If it's based on my kill/death ratio or how many people I can blow up with grenades then Uncharted 3 is also broken, because these giants of Uncharted 3 multiplayer have got everything down to a science.

I played up to level 45 in Uncharted 2 and for maybe 3 months of 2010 I could hold my own against the monsters that are apparently still in there because of Uncharted 3's sketchy controls. However, in the 7 months since the release of the third game, the competition has risen to a plateau that I'm never going to reach by casually playing a match or two each weekend. Occasionally, I manage to break even against these juggernauts who have managed to circumvent the loose movement and the complete lack of auto-aim by sheer repetition to the point where aiming and firing is instinctive.

The upgrade situation hasn't made the stiff opposition any more manageable, because there is basically one rifle that renders everything else useless in a 1 on 1 fight which is unlocked at level 16. Once I realised that I stuck exclusively to the co-op, because I'm old and impatient enough to the point where I'm not going to subject myself to repeated punishment so I can unlock something that will then, and only then, allow me to actually get better at the game itself.

At this point, I'm beginning to think it's impossible for a person who isn't 15 with all the time in the world to pick up a multiplayer game months after launch and enjoy themselves from the start. Either you get in day one, or you get to struggle your way up the leveling process while the game's devoted following throws rocks at you.

I then put in Bad Company 2 and crashed a helicopter into a building, mainly because I could. From this, I know I'm a child when it comes to multiplayer, I throw a tantrum when the bigger kids are better than me.

Un-here

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Unless you haven't noticed, I've basically ceased all blogging activities here until further notice. Mostly because the site is broken, but also because I have a litany of life things happening that prevent me from consuming things game-like in nature.

My advice to you guys is to make an account on Giantbomb, it may be getting a tad more commercial but it's still leaps and bounds ahead of this graveyard. The community is just as vitriolic and contrary as it is at GS but at least they insult you intelligently. Setho10 has migrated over there and I told myself that as soon as he up-sticks then there wouldn't be much hope left for the blogging community here.

Granted, I'm still going to comment on your blogs and generally exercise my snark-muscle whenever the opportunity presents itself. I might try to appear once again on stephenage's community podcast. But until this site is fixed and people start writing again, it's au revoir from me.

The Blackest of Operatives

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If you want to get my attention, put a horse in your trailer.

The Call of Duty franchise was never one that I was going to appreciate or identify with, because I have a marked aversion to virtually killing people I don't know. However, since Modern Warfare broke the records back in 2007 the only game released by Activision under Call of Duty banner (disregarding the legal shenanigans with the Modern Warfare name) that I could get behind was Black Ops

Treyarch obviously have ideas about storytelling and how they can adapt Call of Duty's 5-hour Hollywood-action flick campaigns to acccomodate it. If you stop and actually think about Black Ops' narrative, then consider how mainstream Call of Duty had become by then, you start to realise how utterly ballsy Treyarch had to be to pull it off. It wasn't a particularly good story, getting far too dumb for its own good by the end, but you didn't expect such a huge name to try and make a framed narrative and then sell gangbusters like it did.

Yesterday I still didn't care one iota about Call of Duty Black Ops 2. But when you put some horses and brazen sci-fi ridiculousness in front of me then I'm more likely to sit up and listen, especially since Treyarch is now responsible for keeping joe Wal-mart and johnny Tesco playing something with "Call of Duty" in the title until the next console cycle.

What interests me about Black Ops 2 is that it's Treyarch's chance to throw down the gauntlet and prove to themselves that they aren't as creatively bankrupt as the gutted IW/Sledgehammer brigade who cobbled together last year's MW3. Are they running on a new engine? Is this going to make the multiplayer interesting at all? How is their horse-rendering tech?

All these questions I hope to be answered, because as of now the industry uses the Call of Duty franchise as a point of reference on the high seas of a protracted console generation, and the fact that someone wants to push the name out of the stale modern military mileu is always intiguing, even if the game won't be.

What are your thoughts people? Still vitriolic towards all things bearing the CoD name or are you open to HORSES?

Kratos is Dead. Long Live Kratos

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Imagine you're a Sony executive in early 2011. Your tie is reasonably expensive, you probably have a German car with a badge that says "I'm very well to do don't you know" and you're in a meeting to determine the whats and whens of Sony Playstation intellectual property being released in the next 2 years. Suddenly, a man with a better badge than you addresses you in concerned tones: "Jack (all businessmen are named Jack really), what have we got coming in 2012?"

You look around the room at the reps from each development house. The chap from Naughty Dog is sitting at the far end of the table taking notes on moss, the dudes from Insomniac making 'BLAM' motions with their fingers at the stationery and both the teams from Media Molecule and Guerilla are so thoroughly British and Dutch respectively that you're afraid to ask them in case they think you're discriminating. Resignedly, you turn to Stig Amussen from Santa Monica, and without needing to be asked he says "f*ck it, people still like Kratos don't they?"

And yes. It is 2012 and we now know that the furious, excessively bald and bloodthirsty Kratos of no fixed abode; a man last seen impaling himself with a sword as big as himself, is again going to keep T.C Carson in work for another year.

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A loincloth makes everyone livid

Back when I was but a stupid teenager, Kratos and his unquenchable thirst for the spilling of meat juice was something of a beloved anti-hero of mine. Kids like to imagine a world where they can solve a problem by tearing off the head of a gorgon or impaling a sea serpent on a mast. Kratos' slow burn tale of revenge tapped into many a teen's bubbling centres of anger and resentment, including my own at the time. His aggressive baldness and pitiless violence was focus-group tested to embody sheer "badassery". Chain blades, massive pectorals and guttural roars of pure hatred while stabbing minotaurs in the mouth were just what a scene overloaded with bloated mythologies and generic characters needed.

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However, we reached a tacit understanding with Sony Santa Monica when God of War 3 rolled around. We agreed to follow along with Krato's pyschopathic killing of Greek deities in return for a send-off so utterly fantastical and ridiculous for the character that we would feel happy with consigning him to the scrapheap. From the moment you saw those thumbs arch towards the screen, slightly obscuring the face of a madman, you knew that Kratos had to die in this game because your sympathy with his goal would only last as long as there were enough dislikable Gods to murder.

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The question I'm asking is: "why does God of War Ascension exist for any other reason than Sony needs a name in late 2012?" Because there's no logical reason why they would drag this tired icon back, and for a prequel of all things. Since 2005 we've had 5 sucessive Kratos-starring vehicles, accounting for a full trilogy and a proper prequel AND a quasi-gap filler in Ghost of Sparta. Simply put: there is no one left for Kratos to kill. He has murdered his way up the Greek pantheon for being tricked into slaying his family and then being betrayed by Zeus and there's no reason we need to flesh out this dimensionless character now we know how it ended.

People often make the argument that story isn't important in a videogame and neither is character. But story and character are surprisingly integral to God of War, the series' version of low greek mythology has been defined by how well the main character has fitted in, and cut his way through, it's world. To be fair; Sony Santa Monica did a fine job flogging enough context out Kratos' paper thin personality and backstory to keep us interested, and Ghost of Sparta managed to get a new angle out of Kratos' past that we hadn't seen before.

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CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

The God of War series could, and should have been, an anthology of insane revenge tales from each of the great mythologies. Norse, Egyptian, even a fresh take on China and Japan's mythos would have been preferable to what Ascension sounds like it's going to be, namely a blatant reusing of assets to bump up Sony's stock price before the end of the financial year. Though we don't think of it as such, the God of War series has received an annual release since 2010. I'm getting old and tired and generally intolerant of juvenile ultra-violence because I'm being asked to buy it every 12 months with everyone's favourite murderer on the cover.

As a series so dependent on the investment one has in its protagonist's bloody escapades, the "character" in the genre of "character action" that God of War inhabits is rather irrelevant now we've punched Zeus' treacherous face into a pulp. All the hooks have been worn down and discarded, which makes it seem vaguely insulting that Sony is bolting on yet another story to a character we all knew needed to die by the end of the trilogy.

The phenomenal visuals and production values that Santa Monica will pour into God of War Ascension notwithstanding, there's little reason for fans of the series to care when the well they've gone back to for so many years is down to the last dregs of inspiration. As with everything these days, dragons and Nordic helmets with horns on would've made a world of difference.

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"Contractual Obligations" Sony Santa Monica (2012)

The Haircut

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(This is a story about the removal of hair, if you don't like it you can go elsewhere)

I eyed the hairdresser's shopfront warily, as a corpulent businessman might eye the placard on his cardiologist's door or others would regard the dentist's chair after months of soft-drink consumption. When one is neither ugly nor worth a second glance of admiration, one needs a physical feature around which one comfortably mold an appearance. At age twelve some instinct had conveyed this information to my younger self; causing me to shirk the hairdresser and cultivate a mop of curly long hair, much to the chagrin of my father and by extension his father.

The hair had since become a part of me, I was the kid with the big hair. To remove the hair was to remove some of my "essence", rather than strength, Delilah in her many hairdresser incarnations was stripping away my identity or so I thought at the time. Now however such melodramatic rationalisations have been replaced by the hard certainty that I really didn't look good with short hair, but that didn't exactly dull the dread of the barber's chair.

I approached the receptionist's desk that faced out into the shopping centre, fixing my best "It would be lovely of you if you could do something for me" smile in place. I had made no appointment, as if I had the maturity to organise something so routine for the rest of the western world. Sadly, it was very quiet today according to the heavily made-up girl receptionist, she flashed me a canned smile and told me that she was sure she could fit me in.

The "salon" was half-full with expatriot housewives, the great women behind the great men heading up the multinationals whose reach extended to the South-Pacific enough to justify sending their best to Singapore. The tonsorial operations being performed on the heads of these women begged further examination. Strips of hair were being painted on beds of foil, minute strands were being carefully isolated and excised, the room emitting a floral aroma so inoffensive that it was sure to attract every possible demographic.

Into this yawning chasm I shuffled, my incredulous glances at the manipulation of hair being met by collective expressions from the staff in variations of "oh god I don't want to deal with that". The receptionist led me to a leather chair toward the back of the salon and planted a laminated piece of paper with the name "Jenny" in front of me. I killed time waiting for this Jenny by casting my gaze around at my fellow encumbents until one of the women sent me an inviting look that she was too advanced in years to pull off. I hastily fixed my eyes on my own reflection in the hope that she would return to her magazine.

A girl approached my chair with a cup of what looked like apple juice. She set it on the shelf underneath my mirror; steam rose off the cup and I thought "hot apple juice. Brilliant". I took a tentative sip and discovered it to be one of those herbal teas with no discernable flavour, neither distinctive nor offensive. A hairdresser with a name tag identifying her as "Jenny" followed soon after. She didn't look like a Jenny, but perhaps it was her salon name, it was that amiable sort of title that you could feel comfortable discussing the weather with.

Jenny affixed my hair with a glare of barely-concealed revulsion. This was the one moment of a haircut that I enjoy, the bait and switch. Gingerly, so-called Jenny swiped her hand through my hair as if it contained something vicious and reptilian within the mass of follicles. Her expression changed from disgust to puzzlement to relief and I quietly thought "That's right, it gets washed. Dirty blonde is just a colour". Emboldened by the apparent lack on wildlife in my mop, Jenny set about carving her artistic vision out of the dross before her. "A Weeded Garden" by Jenny Hairdresser (2012), hair on skin.

The tea looked accusingly at me through the falling tufts of brown, its obnoxious yellow being the only thing I could focus on that didn't remind me of the operation being undertaken on my scalp. After ten minutes the tone of the scissors changed from a curt *snip* to a more aggressive "snap*, the sharp little stabs of pain told me the thinning scissors were out. Volume was being brutally reduced along with quantity, as if both were an affront to the finest traditions of the establishment that Jenny represented.

Eventually the cascade of damp clumps ceased and a mirror showing the back of my head was presented for approval, bemusedly I nodded as if to say "Yes, that is indeed the back of my head. Well done". Jenny, in a futile gesture, attempted to sculpt the resultant mess into something in-keeping with what she thought the kids wanted to look like these days. All it did was make me look like a spiked mushroom, my hair doesn't obey the hands of an unfamiliar agent.

Feeling acutely self-conscious, I checked my phone in order to remind myself of a later meeting with someone important. The question of why I had chosen today of all days to strip away some of my personality surfaced in my mind like a knawing tick, playing up the insecurities. I could feel air coursing around my ears for the first time in 8 months and wondered how people managed to stand the breeze. There were 3 messages on the phone and only one of them counted, hopefully remarks would be kept to a minimum.

Strands of other people's hair stuck to my shoes and I felt dirty carrying them out and scraping them off on the pavement. The bi-monthly cycle had repeated itself with the day being consumed by the dread of a haircut. All that was left was the release and chilly ears.

Prepare to Die

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Recently the news that Dark Souls was being released on the PC in a reverse of what CDProjektRED are doing with the current 360 Edition of The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition. As Dark Souls is a game worth thinking about, I've been debating with myself on whether this is a good thing for the game and what it is trying to achieve.

Gamespot gave Dark Souls plenty of potential-GOTY attention which is something I didn't particularly agree with; as much as I love what it does and how it goes about doing it, Dark Souls on consoles had some serious framerate issues that permeated entire levels, a wonky camera and a broken lock-on system. Admittedly the last of these seemed like a deliberate design choice but it didn't make the frustration at being mobbed without tools to deal with said mob any more forgivable.

Below: Screenshots rarely convey 20 frames per second well

The news that From Software are releasing the game on PC hopefully means the stability issues and camera problems will be sorted in much the same way Remedy fixed its resolution issues in Alan Wake for the PC. However, I take the purist's view on the subject of Dark Souls' difficulty and maintain that the "Prepare to Die" Edition needs to be sewn up so tightly, either by a mandatory online DRM model or just heavy encryption, so that the game can't be modded by people wanting to "customise" their experience.

Dark Souls, and Demon's Souls for that matter, should have been on the PC from the start because that's where the audience for those games is. However, the intent of Dark Souls in particular is to teach you understand the rules of the game and train yourself to the point where you can exploit them. If they let people modify those rules then the reason why that game is so remarkable is lost, preserving the "essence" of Dark Souls basically involves preventing "givesouls". The "Souls" games really wouldn't have had the same impact on hardcore players if not for the restrictions imposed by consoles on modified content and hacking.

No Clipping would defeat the purpose of big imposing trees and the controls' inability to deal with them.

I don't have a problem with modding, I've installed some high-res textures for Mass Effect 2 and played around with "Payne Effects 3" for Max Payne 2. But the rules of those games aren't nearly as stringent or integral to their respective experiences as the rules are for Dark Souls. For all its faults Dark Souls is a game I have immense admiration for because "The Dark Souls Experience" is so unique due to its very nature of being unforgiving. Generally I would agree that it's a PC gamer's perogative if he/she (but you know it's a he) wants to change the game to suit their tastes, Dark Souls however is my hard and fast exception to that.

When you couple that with the potential for invading players to hack the online PVP rules and you've got a solid argument for why measures that will infuriate a great deal of people should be put in place to prevent the systems and intent of the game from being compromised. More so than the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, Dark Souls for PC is an example of why an artistic vision shouldn't be allowed to be altered just because the sweaty masses say so.

It's fantastic that the platform that is home to the people who will probably value Dark Souls the most are finally getting it in its most technically sound version, but someone in the industry needs to step in and say "No, this is how this game is, modding breaks the core of the experience. Mod Skyrim all you like but you're not ruining this". After all, its out of pure benevolence that From Software are even putting it out on PC at all, be glad they read petitions and leave their game alone.

The Dive Boat

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A wiry, bespectacled woman reaches down below the table and retrieves a bottle of Glenfiddich whiskey, stumbling slightly as the boat rocks from the waves. I cast a curious, furtive glance at the bottle over my Ibsen. As if in response, she says to the room at large "I just can't live without scotch", she has said words to that effect to the cabin three times already tonight. The line of moisture on her glass has risen by an inch each time.

Ibsen gives me a good place for me to hide my expression, which plainly reads to the casual observer: "divers..." I'm in the cabin for this very reason, to escape the menagerie of individuals populating the upper decks, sharing stories about diving, hilarious hijinks related to diving and the sorts of places they want to dive at in the future.

I retire to my bunk, knowing full well my father will clatter in later having spent most of the night sharing similar pieces of choice information with his fellow enthusiasts. The boat creaks every few seconds, as it's built entirely of wood I often have trouble bolting the door as the frame twists and shifts according whatever forces are warping the hull. The exhaustion wrought by the day's diving makes sleep in this hot place smelling of salt and bodily odour inevitable, better that way.

"GEDDUP YOU LAZY BUGGERS" cuts through the morning reverie, there's nothing like an Australian for when you need to accelerate the wake-up process. Muzzily we drag ourselves into clothes we don't mind being drenched in seawater, because we're putting up with the heat and confinement for diving and the sooner we get to that point the better. The cheerful lopsided figure of Adrian greets my father, and by extension me, in the hallway. His bare chest reveals a right arm almost completely devoid of muscle, hanging limply by his side, covered in surgical scars with fingers jutting out at unsettling angles. It's made all the more obvious by the size of his bulging left arm, one that must have had to lift tanks and equipment unaided by its right counterpart for who knows how many years.

But like everyone else on the boat, Adrian's mood is infectiously buoyant. "There's a vicious current, but Geoff says there's a gem of a wreck down there" I hear as I awkwardly attempt to don a wetsuit in a small space. Here is where you keep your eyes down, concentrate on your gear or risk catching a glimpse of flesh not meant to see the light of day. I get myself suited quickly and take the jump of the boat first. Immediately the current forces me underneath the boat, I catch the mooring line before the surge of water carries me back to Singapore and force myself down towards the wreck.

As we physically haul ourselves down the line, droplets of oil from the 70-years sunk ship slowly make their way to the surface. The ship still bleeds oil, streamers of tar curling themselves around the cracked hull. At 23 metres down, I drink up air fast, my lungs being compressed by the weight of the water. All 40 minutes of dive time I use, hovering over moray eels and puffer fish, keeping my distance from a pair of trigger fish as tales of fingers removed and air lines severed come easily to mind when you're staring at their subject matter.

Geoff finds a souvenir of sorts near the stern of the vessel amongst the stiff ropes and anchors stuck in place, a small trophy with the only decipherable word being "Osaka". Regulations say we should neither leave nor take away anything from a site, but as the ship has already been gutted of everything but its mementos and its oil I'll forgive my guide for wanting to take back a slice of history.

35 minutes and we have to drag ourselves up the line, the current responding perfectly to Murphy's Law and pushing us back down instead up as it had before. The only way to reach the deck of the boat is to strike out from the line at an angle that the current will slingshot us in range of the ladder that is our exit route. As I grab the ladder, the waves pull me under the boat again, my fins a metre away from the thankfully static propellor blades.

As I drag myself out, I find that the ship has bled all over me in streaks of black. I reek of a garage, or a day spent fixing an old car. Others surface in the same state, so I hastily grab myself one of the two bathrooms and set about my arms, legs and hair with soap and a brush. I scrub myself down until specks of blood appear on my arms where the brush dugs in too deep, it's worth it to get rid of the stains and the acrid smell they emit.

I emerge from the dank bathroom to be hit by an overwhelming sense of fatigue. This is decompression, where the body expands and relaxes after being weighed down by tonnes upon tonnes of seawater. My fellow divers, still exhibiting their desire to wear half the number of items of clothing that would prevent them from terrifying small children, have already positioned themselves in varying degrees of horizontal as the tiredness washes over us.

I find myself a bench to spread myself out on, letting a sigh of blissful lethargy out in the process. I stare up and imagine the bubbles of nitrogen working themselves out of my system, because in two hours they need to be gone. In two hours, I'll repeat this process. Over two days, I will repeat this process at five other sites, the claustrophobic boat carrying me to each in turn as I slip into a doze filled with the smell of fish, the tossing of the waves and the satisfaction of raising an extended middle finger to the limitations of my species.

All I need is a violin theme to make it seem doubly worthwhile.

Max Payne the Second: Rockstar Edition

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On May 15th Rockstar will be releasing a game known as Max Payne 3. The name "Max Payne" means a lot to gamers, it generally conjures up memories of violins, painkillers and interior monologue. Until friday however, to me that meant 360 degree panning shots of Mark Wahlberg being intense with his nostrils and an exceptionally bad pun. On said I friday, I purchased "Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne", the last Payne game the crazy Finns known as Remedy made before the name was shoved under the bed for 8 years only to emerge: newly shaven to the ire of that reasonable focus group known as "the internet".

Logic told me that playing a 9 year old game wasn't going to tell me whether the guys who made GTA could also make Max Payne in 2012. Logic was such a liar.

"My tie is fine"

Many games and movies present us with the notion of "Bullet time. Pretty awesome yeah?". Time slows down, you get to see those bullets whizzing towards parts of the protagonist that the henchmen really dislike and suddenly all the marble has been destroyed in the lobby. With Max Payne 2, Remedy took the slow-motion gunfights of Hong Kong action flicks and said "Awesome, our next game is going to be all this".

Max Payne 2 is 6 hours of the finest action scenes in Hong Kong cinema together and garnished with a lovable coating of hokey noir detective fiction. Bullet time is ingrained into every aspect of Max Payne 2, chiefly because Remedy made the game impossible to play without it. As you kill the bad guys, you speed up and time slows for them to a greater degree, because time has a habit of doing that. The result is that one can walk into a room full of cleaners armed with machine guns, pop one's bullet time and initiated an elegant ballet of ludicrous ragdolling bodies and stylishness for the sake of it.

There's no catch, no flaws to speak of in how game that's almost a decade old plays and controls better than virtually every other modern third-person shooter released this generation. Rarely do games ever manage to make a single mechanic, especially one as simple and mundane as slowing down time, so integral to a game's look and feel. Whenever Max does his little unecessary dance of reloading, you can feel Remedy poking your dopamine centres with a stick.

So the question that arose was "How exactly could Rockstar screw up such a perfect formula?" Max Payne 2 is as simple as action games can get, success being determined by how well you dive in slow motion down some stairs while your inner 10 year old goes "ddduudddddeee".

Once you delve deeper into what makes Max Payne so important to people, you realise that the aforementioned superbly cinematic gameplay is just a foundation, a base so solid that Remedy could bounce its referential insanity against it for hours and only make Max's noir world seem more appealing. I've come to realise how endearing Remedy unintentional (hopefully) lashings of fromage are, and why people started getting hot under their anonymous internet collars when they realised Rockstar might be taking the series seriously.

This is a cutscene in Max Payne 2. You can almost taste the cheese

If I were to distill what makes Max Payne and its sequel in particular's tonal stylings so enjoyable, and then package it into an aluminium can for ease of storage, the resulting concoction would be 1-part Twighlight Zone, 2-parts Noir fiction and maybe 4-parts self-seriousness to the point of hilarity. Max Payne 2 is dark and dumb in equal measure, with Max spouting lines so melancholy and symbolic you expect a chorus of emo teenagers to burst into rapturous applause every time Max drones his dour monotone. This more than anything is why I suspect people were afraid of losing such gems as Captain Baseball Bat-Boy because Rockstar have been playing everything with a straight face for the past 5 years.

Shaven heads denote deep emotional turmoil, well-known fact that

Personally, I think Rockstar has the potential to deliver on Max Payne 3 for just that reason. The issue with the "serious" Rockstar games has always been that you've had to control a character with a specific arc of about 10 hours in length that is stretched out to accomodate 40. Rockstar have started making meaningful, human characters the centre of their stories, which means zilch when you can go out to kill cops and steal horses on a whim. Max Payne 3 could be the first time Rockstar write a story that spans the length and breadth of the experience without letting you tarnish the tone by running over pedestrian grannies.

The fundamentals of Max Payne's bullet timey gameplay are virtually impossible to ruin, leaving Rockstar with the interesting prospect of working with a pre-defined character and a linear narrative. All the aspects of Rockstar's open-world sandbox games that have hamstrung their stories are null and void, allowing Dan Houser and company to do what Rockstar does best, namely the kind of hilarious caricatures that are pure Max Payne and a fully-realised setting to rival Remedy's interpretation of New York.

If Max's terrifying baldness indicates a lack of "Address Unknown" and similar ridiculousness, I can stomach it to get a new Max Payne that could also be the first time Rockstar focuses solely on its more unique and abstract talents. If the trade-off is a deficit of hokey noir in return for the evolution of a studio still stuck in the confines of its GTA heritage, then I'll happily make myself $60 poorer for the latter.