She was sceptical, having only ever used a mac for more mundane electronic adventures. After watching her play through Journey (and expressively enjoy doing so) I figured Machinarium was another solid bet; charming art style, great music (of which she has excellent taste) and another solid subversion of her prejudice towards the medium as a whole. It's an uphill struggle, though in fairness it is not particularly steep.
It's gratifying both to observe someone playing a game that you love, and watching them fall into it as well. Videogames, for all their introversion, have always been shared experiences at heart - perhaps not immediately, though one cannot dispute the desire and genuine pleasure one feels discussing and contrasting said experiences retrospectively. Though I don't need to tell you that. That's why you're here.
It's been a while. Watching her play the game has brought back memories of my own experience, the soundtrack acting as it's prominent trigger. A lot of time has passed since I played the game for myself, enough that many of the solutions to the puzzles have been forgotten. With the second solve comes equal parts satisfaction and familiarity. It's like walking back in time.
Last week I caught her playing, unprompted. She blushed when I caught her. And smiled.
Diretide, the Halloween event of yester-year, has finally been announced in the recent Dota 2 blog by Valve. The collective internet tempter-tantrum has finally resulted in the upcoming re-release of the event, accompanied by a disgustingly apologetic letter from the Valve team. You can read the whole letter over here, but I'm just going to grab some quotes so you get the gist of it:
First, what happened – we didn’t ship a Diretide event this year, and you were rightly upset about it. That was clearly a mistake, and then we compounded the problem by not telling you what was going on.
As a result, by the time we’d realized we’d made a bad decision, the pitchforks were out.
There were a bunch of people on the Dota 2 team who poked at the decision to not do it as Halloween approached, but due to how busy everyone was with our next major update, no-one really took the time to step back and objectively realise we were being collectively crazy.
My issue here is with the tone. The blog explains, in completely reasonable terms, the reason that the event did not take place:
We have a huge update in the works that looked like it would be finished in time for Halloween. Stopping that update to work on Diretide seemed like something you would actually be unhappy with us for, because the update is pretty significant.
A lack of communication was also perhaps unwise, but the wheedling, apologetic nature of the blog is by far the most worrying element of this entire scenario. In apologising, in caving in to the pressure applied by the spoilt, screaming man-children of the internet, Valve is vindicating their behaviour; Vindicating the personal harassment of community figures, and the moronic spam-attacks on entirely unrelated and relatively innocent car manufacturers. Valve is enabling the morons of the internet. For Diretide? I mean fuck.
I guess the next move is Gabe goes round to everyone's house and personally installs Half Life 3 on their computers? I know it's great that Valve is listening to community feedback, but this sets a pretty dangerous precedent: Where internet communities effectively bully developers into the features that they think they want. Excuse fucking me, but I'm not quite sure I want the NeoGAF hivemind dictating how my games are produced.
It's fairly transparent at this point that, as one of the biggest entertainment products in history, Grand Theft Auto 5 is going to attract it's share of negative media attention. "Violent videogames are corrupting our youth!" and all that jazz - I'm not going to reignite this discussion because, yawn, we did this dance already. If you're using a site like Giant Bomb then, hey, you're part of the choir and I'm not going to waste my time preaching to you. The mainstream press will jump on any opportunity to slap GTAV or Call Of Duty in a headline because they are pretty much guaranteeing themselves a sizable pissed off audience.
Unfortunately the most damaging aspect is that the people getting frustrated with aforementioned bandwagoning are often unable to articulately or constructively counter it. I always feel uncomfortable when someone says "If videogames are influencing my behavior, why am I not jumping on mushrooms and trying to save princesses from castles!" because it's such an obtuse and ridiculous argument that it's actually counter-productive. One experience does not excuse the other, and to suggest the entire medium can be sub-headed under the blanket term "videogames" when such controversy rears it's ugly head serves only to take one giant social step backwards, vindicating the dismissals of society, that videogames as just that; games. For children.
The second worst form of the argument is an attempt to find precedence in other media:
There's violent films, and violence on TV, and violent books, and art, and music - why should videogames be any different, and why should they be persecuted individually? In this we find ourself clumsily attempting to wield a double-edged sword; the interactivity which defines our medium, giving it life and creating the vital empathy which allows us to immerse ourselves in these virtual worlds, is just as much an argument against violent videogames as it is for them. Let's be honest - when you're controlling a virtual avatar and you smash a virtual prostitute with a virtual baseball bat, the rush that comes from that is one of liberation, of transgression without social consequence, or shame, or punishment - that empathy exists, and it is manipulating us and how we play - that's what defines these experiences at their core, and that's why we enjoy them. One might argue, however, that empathy with a sociopath is less than desirable.
Videogames have the potential to be damaging and it would be childish or naive to deny that. But, like almost anything else, only when taken to excess. Seems to me, the best argument for videogames as a viable and healthy entertainment medium is; I'm not insane. We are not insane. We grew up in arcades, in basements, in our bedrooms - surrounded, immersed, hypnotised - and we turned out OK.
I tried repeatedly to write about my travels in Asia, and repeatedly these plans were discarded. Whenever my pen touched the paper the words felt tired and stale, and I was unable to read my own work without feeling a deep disgust at my own literary mediocrity. It was an effort to begin and it was a trial to endure; why sit and write about my adventures when I could be out finding new ones?
Travel blogs are an underrated, yet invaluable companion to anyone setting out to a far-flung corner of the planet. Lonely Planet can only take you so far - often outdated, or attempting to appeal to such a wide audience that for many travelers the advice is misplaced. While abroad the best source of information is word of mouth - it needs to be! On the Perhentian Islands electricity only runs from 7pm until 7am, unless you're paying a bit more for a hostel with a generator, and wifi is limited beyond that to a few specific locations. Sharing advice with your fellow travelers is backpacking 101.
Before I left for Malaysia (And India, but we'll get to that later) I spent a long time cruising around travel blogs. You can't rely on a single blog because, hey, every experience will be different, but reading about the collective adventures of other backpackers was by far the most constructive and informative source of information. Consequently it should seem only fair that I contribute. And so;
Here are The Adventures Of Sweep, Summer 2013 edition.
I flew from Mumbai (Unhelpfully still called Bombay by most of the locals, with the acronym BOM) on a 5 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. I had a connecting flight from Sabang airport to fly to Kota Bharu on the opposite coast. It is possible to connect directly from KL but Skyscanner decided it would be cheaper for us to change, so that's what we did. From KL airport you can grab a taxi from one of the street level exits that will ferry you over to Sabang airport. The woman driving our taxi was perhaps the friendliest person I have ever met, despite the fact her taxi was completely saturated with mosquitoes, and during the hour long journey I was completely ravaged by the little fuckers. Unhelpfully I have completely forgotten how much the journey cost but it was about 150 ringgits (30 quid). Once we got to Sabang airport we sat in Starbucks for an hour and tried not to fall asleep while waiting for our gate to open, the local airline refusing to let us check in any less than an hour before our flight was due to leave. After some laughably vague security checks ("Yeah you can take that vodka in your hand luggage, just don't drink it on the plane") we boarded a tiny aircraft and scooted over to Kota Bharu within the hour. It wasn't until I got off the plane at the other end that I actually felt like I was somewhere tropical; Walking out onto the tarmac was like being immersed in a wall of heat. After being pissed on by Mumbai monsoons for two weeks, it was a welcome change of climate.
Having read some of the aforementioned travel blogs, I was expecting the next chunk of the trip to be the most complicated, dicking around with taxi drivers and speedboat prices - but the entire exchange was pleasantly streamlined. Almost as soon as our bags had been collected we were approached by a small Malay lady who, I assume having eyed up our backpacks, asked if we needed a taxi to the pier at Kuala Besut, and then a boat over to the Perhentians. My spidey-sense kicked in and told me that I could probably get a better price if I negotiated directly with a driver, but the quote she gave us (30 ringits for the taxi, 70 each for a return boat ticket) was what I had been told to expect, so I figured fuck it. I hadn't slept for almost 28 hours at this point so I was inclined to accept whatever option was easiest. The taxi took an hour, the driver lazily cruising along at his own pace, completely unconcerned with the departure time of the boat we were expecting to catch. I've heard from others since that the time between the airport and the pier can vary dramatically based on your driver, and the journey can technically be completed within about 35 minutes. Technically.
Once at the pier we were abandoned in a small cluster of shops and hostels, each boasting scuba trips and the usual travel nonsense. We were hailed by a Malay guy who took us into his shop, inspected our boat tickets and, after we had signed our names and passport numbers into his book (still not sure why we did this?), escorted us to the pier around the corner. At this point we had to pay 5 ringgits as a toll for entry to the nature reserve - technically it was 5 ringitts for 3 days, but this was never enforced by any authority and nobody seemed to care whenever it was brought up. Having paid, we were shepherded into one of the skinny little speedboats that serve as water taxis across the south china sea. I'd read that these boats were only supposed to seat about 12 people, but the driver refused to leave until every spare bit of room had been occupied, so we eventually departed with 23 passengers and their assorted luggage. And a baby. Nobody seemed too concerned about this, least of all the driver, (turns out "Health and Safety" isn't really a thing in Malaysia) and the hour long journey over to the island was completed without any cause for concern.
The Perhentian Islands are actually split into Kecil and Besar (more commonly known as Little and Big islands, respectively). Besar is where the larger, more family friendly (read: expensive) resorts were located, and Kecil is where the bars are. Guess which one I picked? There was a bit of faffing about while the driver tried to figure out which stops people needed to get off at, but eventually we found ourselves on the shore of Long Beach. Home Sweet Home.
There's a well known scam on Long Beach where, instead of using the pier at the end of the beach, the speedboat will perch just deep enough that you are required to pay a local child 2 ringgits to ferry you to the shore in a smaller boat - despite the fact that every other boat on the beach has no trouble driving right up to the sand. It's only 2 ringgits (20 pence) but it still stings a bit, admittedly mostly on principle.
We arrived on the 3rd of August, with Ramadan in full swing - Malaysia being an Islamic country - which meant several things: firstly, many of the Malaysians had left the island to go home and be with their families. Secondly, the beach was absolutely rammed with travelers. We had been warned by a nervous looking German couple at Kota Bharu airport, also heading to Kecil, that their friend had told them there was no rooms available. I knew from my research that most of the hotels didn't accept reservations, so we decided to risk it. If push came to shove we would sleep on the beach, then grab a room early the next morning when the current residents checked out.
We actually had no trouble finding a place to stay - Moonlight Chalets, right at the end of the beach - though we had asked around a bit first and had also found several alternatives. For 150 ringgits (30 pounds) per night we had an air conditioned room with a double bed, en-suite bathroom, and an extra mattress on the floor. Ten pounds each for our group of 3 (this was in the high season so prices were considerably... well, higher) was pretty good, and we didn't appreciate it at the time but air-con was a luxury on the island that few would experience. There was also a mosquito net but we abandoned that after a few days; there was no malaria and we were getting bitten regardless, so it seemed more trouble than it was worth. We settled in with the intention of shopping around for alternatives over the next few days but, after a week we decided we were comfortable and so simply stayed there for our whole trip.
I need to give a shout to the guys working at Moonlight because they are all, without exception, wonderful human beings. Welcoming, friendly, always offering to take you exploring or out on their boat, show you around the island or playing music in the bar. They are the most chilled out group ever; once I was nursing a hangover in the cafe at the front of reception and a french couple walked in and asked what time breakfast would be served. The waiter just shrugged lazily and replied "Uh... when the chef wakes up?"
My kinda place.
We hadn't slept in almost two straight days but successfully getting to the island gave us the boost we needed to venture off down the beach. Though it's called Long beach, you can walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes, and before long we had stumbled into Beach Bar, one of the two bars on the beach blaring out music, with firespinners on a makeshift stage at the front of the bar. We sat in the sand and drank inadvisable amounts of Monkey Juice (the local rum, exclusive to the Perhentian Islands, that you can mix with literally anything), smoked a shisha, and before long were thoroughly shitfaced. When it started raining at 2am we didn't even notice. My last memories of that night are raving around a towering shisha, blowing smoke at each other and precariously throwing the pipe back and forth - all the while the other travelers around us looked on placidly, clearly mystified as to how we were enjoying ourselves so much when it was only 9pm in the evening.
And so ended our first night in Malaysia.
I'm planning on writing a bunch more of these, maybe another about my time actually on the island and perhaps a blog about working in a film studio in Mumbai. I was on Kecil for a month, which is much longer than most people who only seem to stick around for a few days, so I got to know it pretty well. I know this blog isn't about videogames but it does go some way to explaining my absence on the site, and I hope you enjoy reading it regardless.
Lastly, here's a video we made of our time on the island. We swam out to this fishing jetty off Coral Beach and there were these two Australian girls sunbathing on there... so obviously we asked them if they wanted to film a Harlem Shake. What? Don't look at me like that. They played that song every fucking night for a month. We couldn't not do it.
Anyway my mate Keir edited a bunch of the other footage he took on his GoPro into the video. Spoiler: there are sea turtles. Enjoy!
I had to leave work so I wouldn't get angry when someone didn't understand why I was upset. I only met Ryan a few times, but I feel like I've known him half my life. From reading the comments, tributes and general support for Ryan's friends and family, I know a lot of you feel the same. "Fucking devastated" doesn't quite cover it.
Reading through these responses, all these great memories being shared, I'm bouncing between laughter and openly sobbing. As a moderator you are often exposed to the extreme worst of what a site such as this has to offer, but today I don't have to worry about that, because this grief is unanimous. That's more reassuring than I can really articulate. It reminded me why I'm here, on this site, as part of this community.
I know there are a billion threads about this already but fuck it, today we're more than happy to turn a blind eye. I've loved reading about everyone's experiences of meeting, watching and listening to Ryan over the years and it helps, it definitely helps to hear about how loved Ryan was, and how much he will be missed. So I wanted to add my two cents:
I met Ryan at PAX last year. We were in our hotel the night before Rock Band night and Matt got a text from Snide saying he was drinking with Nicole and Ryan over in some bar at the other side of Boston and did we want to join. So Marino, Matt, Andrew, Wafflestomp, Sparklykiss, DVDhaus and PsEG (Were you there, Trace? I can't remember.) hopped on the subway and made our way over. Dave and I drank shots of tequila and Ryan laughed at me for asking if we were going to need a lime. That fucker.
I remember standing outside and smoking a cigarette with him. I didn't know he smoked, but we chatted the whole time, just stupid shit, and I couldn't stop laughing. It sounds dumb, but I had been listening to this guy for hours every week for almost 10 years. It was great to finally meet someone who I felt like I had known for a big chunk of my life.
I can't imagine how the staff are dealing with this. I'm a complete wreck and I only met the guy once. A forum post doesn't do it justice. I feel like I should fly out to the US just to fucking hug everyone.
But yeah. If you have any thoughts or memories of Ryan, please do post them, either here or in your own threads. They are great to read, and genuinely helpful to those trying to come to terms with his passing.
I'm going to finish this with a video I took on my phone of Ryan dancing while the panel band was warming up before PAX East last year. It never fails to make me laugh.
There are very few moments in my life where I have felt as raw, as emotionally scrambled, as when playing The Last Of Us. It's not perfect, or flawless, but it will forever hold intrinsic value as a book-end to this generation. When the eyes of the world are on the future, of technical demonstrations and hardware dick-swinging, Naughty Dog vindicates the argument, once again, that substance will always triumph over style, that what one feels is more important than what one sees.
"Exposition sucks, right?" says Bruce Straley in a post-mortem with EDGE magazine, and The Last Of Us proves him right. There's teasing, implication and suggestion generating a vibrancy that leaves an ironically empty universe colourful and thoroughly inhabited - past tense, however. A lot of bad shit happened in those 20 years. You aren't told what those things were, but you can see it in the blood on the walls, the echoes of gunshots, and the lines on Joel's face. It is in this that The Last Of Us bears it's humanity, and the value of the writer as a profession is again made prominent. For an industry so full of artistic, creative, brilliant minds, the lack of imagination, of variation, remains startling - The Last Of Us a welcome exception.
The ending of the game will always be the subject of much contention, and I'm happy that it should be so; the problems are a direct consequence of the lack of choice. Throughout the game the ethical responsibility of the player was rarely called into question; you had to survive, and it was often fairly straightforward figuring out who the bad guys were.
(They were the one's trying to kill you.)
But the ending was the only real point in the game where any empathy the players might have felt, was stretched. Suddenly you realise "I'm not Joel, and I'm not Ellie, and this isn't my decision to make." and that was actually liberating, that these characters could retain that independence. But some people aren't happy with that - and I sympathise that the sudden detachment may be considered jarring. Not for me.
When I think about the ending of the game, I think about what I would have done if it was my decision. And I think about Sam, and Henry. And I get it.
For the longest amount of time I was the owner of an Xbox 360, and that was all. In those days it was a console that defined me as a player of videogames. The PC, the PS3 - these came later. I saw Dead Rising running on a machine and I said "I do not care about how this happens but I need this in my life" and, 8 years later, I do not harbour regret. Dead Rising was batshit insane, but I had grown up playing games like Revenge Of Shinobi and Ren And Stimpy. Batshit insane wasn't really a big deal. Batshit insane is what videogames are for.
When I got my Xbox 360 I played it to death. Literally, that fucking thing died and I had to send it off for repairs. I was at school, no job, no spare money - I got two new games a year, christmas and bithdays - and whatever I could scrounge out of the preowned section at the local gamestation. I was 15 years old and my xbox was fucking rad.
Back in those days the PS3 always kind of intimidated me. The price alone was high enough to appear abstract as an amount you will never be able to afford and the games looked almost alien - unknown quantities that were beyond my reach. It's weird to articulate it like this, but where the 360 was goofy and approachable, the PS3 seemed almost like a boutique approach to videogames - a status symbol that people would buy and then never actually play.
It's weird how that changed over the years. "Goofy and approachable" now seems "clunky and out of touch" while Sony has somehow managed to maintain the casual class that made it so intimidating in the first place - compounded by open reception to consumer feedback and an impressive catalogue of games. All this despite being £100 cheaper than the competition, bizarre when you consider the high price tag was what gained the console it's original extravagance.
This transition has been ultimately passive. Thanks to E3 Sony has gained the reputation of appearing receptive to consumers and demonstrating a solid understanding of what both their fanbase and wider audiences want from their console. Microsoft flounders, now playing catch-up, a series of middle aged men in blazers telling you what you should want. It was like being lectured by my father. What we had was great but, problem is, I'm not 15 any more. I've grown up, Microsoft. Maybe you should try it.
It's 4:46pm BST, i'm still at work, and I'm wasted.
I feel like I'm starting too many blogs with "I haven't blogged for a while" to the extent that the expectation for Sweep blogs has diminished. I'd like to begin a blog with a triumphant return but, in truth, I can't really be fucked. I have a twitter, I have a facebook, I have many outputs for the regular insanities that cloud my judgement. The entire blog format seems somewhat convoluted, an extension of opinions that are more concisely and articulately portrayed by other mediums - this is not to say that blogging has been entirely diminished conceptually, and I remain a full advocate of it's unique presence both on this website and the internet as a whole. I just cannot, personally, be fucked. Sorry.
This blog is a heads up; A warning. I'm being sent away to Mumbai for a couple of months to work, and I will have very little online presence. This blog remains a bastion of sanity in a life that is about to become increasingly chaotic. I will be posting all my adventures and misfortunes right here. So stay tuned, giantbomb.... you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Over the last few days there has been a lot of turbulence in the VFX industry. Those of you who watched the Oscars might have been aware of the protest taking place on the street outside, where almost 500 VFX artists had gathered to protest the conditions in which many VFX artists are expected to work. To add insult to injury, the film Life Of Pi won the academy award for best VFX while the studio responsible for the work, Rhythm And Hues, files for bankruptcy and hundreds of artists lose their jobs. When the representatives stand to claim their awards, their speech is cut short and their mic unplugged as soon as they mention their studio, the Jaws theme played obnoxiously over their cries of protest. They had not exceeded the time limit they were allowed for their speech, and the presenters, Seth McFarlane included, can be seen clearly baffled by the whole scenario.
The issue here is one of subsidies; VFX soldier explains them far better than I could ever hope to:
"The problems are further compounded by countries that hope to generate economic activity by offering subsidies that essentially pay studios to have the vfx work done there. Vfx facilities are now becoming “rent seekers” where they move from country to country, state to state to take advantage of free government money. This has led many vfx artists to become permanent nomads where some are forced to leave their partners and newborn children to find temporary work in the far reaches of the world. I know of senior colleagues who purchased homes with a false sense of job security only to end up being laid off months later and forced to foreclose when they could only find work in another country.
In an attempt slash costs the vfx facilities have eliminated benefits such as sick days, health insurance, and retirement accounts. Many are forced to work under illegal conditions with unpaid overtime and 1099 tax statuses where we are responsible for paying the employer’s portion of social security. The projects have become more volatile as the vfx facilities try to please the demands of the director put in place by the studio. Constantly months of work can be thrown away by last minute changes by directors with zero consequences. This in turn leads to extended crunch times to update the changes where artists work day and night with 70-100 hour weeks."
Many VFX facilities have been forced to move or have gone out of business because of underbidding exacerbated by government subsidies that drastically distort the price of VFX.
No matter how successful or efficient our work is, we are ultimately at the mercy of the next government willing to distort prices and put the companies we work for out of business.
Here's a quote taken from An Open Letter To Ang Lee, who has been widely criticised for not giving his VFX artists the recognition they deserve despite his film winning Best Cinematography (Ironic, considering most of it was shot in a swimming pool) and Best VFX:
"After a fabulously insulting and dismissive introduction from the cast of the avengers, at least two of whom spent fully half of their film as a digitally animated character, R+H won for it’s work on your very fine piece of cinema. And just as the bankruptcy was about to be acknowledged on a nationally-televised platform, the speech was cut short. By the Jaws theme.
If this was meant as a joke, we artists are not laughing."
Here's some more stuff you might find interesting:
If you see someone on twitter, or on facebook, with a flat green avatar: they are part of this movement. We chose flat green because, without us, that's all you would be able to see. A greenscreen. And maybe some dick in a stupid costume.
For those that don't know; I'm a VFX artist. I chose to write about this here because it's important to me, if not to anyone else, that people are informed. All we ask is your awareness and support. I'm going to end this blog here but if anyone has any questions I'm going to be around so feel free to drop me a comment. I didn't intend for this post to get so long but, y'know, fuck it.
I'm sitting at work listening to people around me chatter about the 8GB of DDR5 RAM that we can expect to sit snugly inside the PS4. We haven't heard much about the new Xbox, but I'm sure it will boast something comparable. I'm trying to get my head around how such a huge boost in the potential graphical prowess of our games will influence both the industry and game design as a whole.
With the new Killzone trailer boasting huge, sprawling cities,
and Watchdogs similarly creating an expansive metropolis bubbling with virtual individuals - it's clear that the natural progression of "better hardware" means, for many, "We can fit more shit on the screen". I'm not going to deny these games look incredible, but should that be the focus of what we want from our videogames and, more importantly, is that how we want developers spending their obviously tight budgets of both time and money throughout the next generation?
Think back on the biggest disappointments of the last few years. I'm willing to bet Mass Effect 3 is on that list - though not for it's aesthetic, but for it's conclusion, for it's story. When we play a game our immediate concerns are that of animation, of reactivity, of the weight of our movements and the impact that is reflected in the world we might inhabit - of narrative, of the artificial intelligence of both our comrades and enemies, of humour and of ingenuity. It's hard to appreciate this stuff because it's success is governed by it's subtlety - if it's been done well, you don't notice it. The appearance of these games is important but it's secondary to the other gameplay mechanics that anchor you within the game you are playing. Many titles have demonstrated that even through a thick layer of abstraction it's still possible to empathise with a virtually controlled entity - that it's still possible to create beautiful, meaningful experiences with limited physical capabilities.
In our current generation we already have games that exceed our aesthetic expectations, yet under-perform elsewhere, be it through poor level design or pacing, or whatever. There are still plenty of elements of game design which are repeatedly ignored, or undercut, or discarded. Every time I spot clipping in a pre-rendered cut-scene I hear nails scraping down a blackboard. So while I love the hype, and the optimism, surrounding this next generation of consoles, I think it's important not to forget that good graphics does not automatically mean good videogames.
This new hardware is going to give developers a lot of potential ways to expand their designs. I hope they don't waste it. A lot of them can't afford to waste it. The industry remains fragile, with solid hardworking dev teams having to shutter their doors based on the poor sales of a single title - there are a lot of studios out there who can't afford to spend an entire development cycle creating a huge realistic city which the player has no enthusiasm to explore.