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Mon, Jan. 12th, 2015, 10:45 pm
Books books books from 2014

I finally read over 100 books in a year in 2014. Never been able to reach that target before, and this time I hit it without even aiming for it. I read 104 books, made up of 56 novels, 26 graphic novels, 16 non-fiction and 6 short story collections. Full list of books at the bottom behind the cut.

Favourite novels of 2014:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Martian by Andy Weir
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Dortmunder books by Donald E Westlake
Hard to narrow it down to just those since I had quite a successful year and so many of the books were great.

Favourite graphic novels of 2014:
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
The Adventures of Unemployed Man by Gan Golan & Erich Origen

Favourite non-fiction of 2014:
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
It’s Not Rocket Science by Ben Miller


All books read in 2014Collapse )

Wed, Aug. 6th, 2014, 01:03 am
A book review

Just read a book that impressed me, more than anything I've read in ages, so thought I'd post my mini-review of it here.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

I knew nothing about this when I picked it up from the library, so it was a nice surprise. A lot of the best graphic novels use the form to their advantage to do things that aren’t possible in other media, and this probably does that more than any book I’ve read. Everything from the style of the art, the colours, the fonts and shapes of the speech bubbles, even the layout of the panels from one page to the next, it all seems to have been carefully thought out to contribute as much to the story and themes of the book as the text itself. Early in the book it makes a point about how everyone sees the world in their own way, and this is illustrated by different characters being illustrated in different ways with different colours. When two characters start a relationship, the art styles and colours merge together, and when they later argue they fracture and separate again. But it’s never overdone, and it all contributes to ideas behind the book.

There’s a lot of depth to it, but the book is also a joy to read. It’s often funny and is written in a way that made me want to just keep reading. The plot itself starts as the apartment of the titular architect is struck by lightning and burns down, and follows him as he starts a new life for himself, but spends as much time going back over his life prior to this too. As you read, things are revealed which then show events from earlier in the book in a different light. It’s a book that I feel I have to reread, so I’m annoyed it’s due back at the library. I may have to buy it.

Anyway, I’ll stop there I think before I go on about it too much. I’m not the best at writing about this sort of thing, but the more I think back over the book, the more impressed I am by it. And the artwork is gorgeous in its own right too. Probably my last graphic novel for a little while, so I’m glad I saved this one for last!

Sun, Mar. 23rd, 2014, 04:39 pm

“It’s all fine to say, “Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget”—and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are there is no passage of time, people do not forget and you are in the middle of something that does not change.”
-John Steinbeck, from Cannery Row

Don't know why it's taken me so long to get round to reading John Steinbeck.

Tue, Jan. 21st, 2014, 06:55 pm
Manchester

I went to Manchester yesterday. I didn't do anything particularly exciting but I'm trying to write more so I'm going to post about it anyway.

I went to the Museum of Science and Industry briefly, though I didn't explore most of it. I did see a massive 1948 computer and looked around the planes though. They had a kamikaze bomb, which I guess means that must have been flown rather unsuccessfully if at all. It's bizarre to think they were designed and built to be crashed.

I went to the John Ryland library again. The building still impresses me. This time they had an exhibition about Polari language and had lots of old gay rights stuff in. They have unusual exhibits there.

I also looked around the huge Waterstones again, which is the biggest outside London. I found an Alan Moore book that I'd never heard of called Fashion Beast which is apparently from a film script he wrote with Malcolm McLaren back in the 80s. I bought it, but haven't read it yet. Also got the collected works of Allen Ginsberg. (I picked up collected works for Walt Whitman and T S Eliot for Kindle later. I go through phases of wanting to read poetry.) I also saw this notepad with a cover that seemed written for me.

PictureCollapse )

Other than that, I just bought too much chocolate again from Hotel Chocolat.

That was a fairly pointless post really, but still, it's something.

Tue, Jun. 12th, 2012, 10:59 pm
Duke Nukem Forever Review

The game finally arrived. Maybe it shouldn't have. Here's my review of Duke Nukem Forever.

[Duke Nukem Forever]
Game: Duke Nukem Forever
Developer: 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Year: 2011
Reviewed: 2012
Platform: PC
Genre: FPS

Duke Nukem Forever: it’s hard to believe that the game is actually here. Many of us suspected that we would never see this game. Perhaps that would have been for the best. It’s hard to imagine how it could possibly be good enough to make up for a 15 year development time, but however disappointing I thought it would be, I never expected it to be a catastrophic failure on quite this level. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Duke Nukem 3D was a revolutionary game. Compared to the earlier FPS games, the levels were open and interactive, the settings more varied and the satirical style of the game made a welcome change from the Doom and gloom of other games in the genre. It was a huge success and so it was only natural that a sequel should go into production almost immediately. This was in 1996. Since then gaming has come a long way. The Half-Life series has revolutionised the FPS genre, twice. Every single Bioware game has been released in the time it’s taken to make Duke Nukem Forever. That’s everything from Baldur’s Gate to Mass Effect 3 via Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age. Every one of the 274 Tomb Raider games plus their spin-offs have been released, a new one for every time technological advancements allowed for higher polygon counts to provide more rounded breast graphics. The Grand Theft Auto series has gone from top down driving to full 3D free roaming cities and Bethesda have made several of the biggest games ever. And it’s taken that long for this shoddy FPS to be thrown together. Remarkable.

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Sometimes the game really is on rails.

The main core of the gameplay is that of a standard FPS, and it does this competently but unspectacularly. The basic controls work pretty much how they should do, but the sense of real motion you often get from modern first person games is missing. Firing the weapons works exactly as it should but lacks any feeling of power, the game too often reminiscent of a shooting gallery. There’s a decent array of weapons, but in a rare moment of deviation from the old style FPS, it imposes a modern style limit on the number of weapons you can carry at once. While this might work in Call of Duty, it doesn’t work in a game with weapons such as a shrink ray. Any wish to experiment with the more fun weapons is tempered by the need to carry the basic weapons that are going to get you through the bulk of the combat. Thankfully, there’s an expanded inventory option in the menu that can be turned on to allow four weapons at a time to be carried instead of two, which goes some way towards making up for the limitation, but it doesn’t really fit in with the classic style of the rest of the game. Of all the modern features to implement, there were many more important ones to choose from.

The long development time shows in all the worst possible ways, but not in terms of quality. Least important but most obvious sign of the delay is the fact that despite the game getting scrapped and restarted several times, the graphics are several years out of date. This would be excusable if the rest of the game made up for it, but as you will probably have worked out, it doesn’t. Aside from this, the biggest clue to the lengthy creation process is the schizophrenic nature of the level design. You can even work out the sort of era where each idea was added to the game. The opening level has a huge amount of activity in a nod towards the modern trend for more freedom in games, but it promptly vanishes for most of the rest of the game. Then, after a few levels of traditional FPS gaming, Duke emerges into an area full of shipping containers, which turns out to be a blatant attempt to copy Half-Life 2’s physics based puzzle solving. Of course, it fails due to the game having no advanced physics showing before this point and giving no clues that there is any now either, leaving you running around randomly until you discover the new physics engine that’s randomly turned up. An entire section involving driving around in a car and occasionally getting out for brief on foot sections to clear obstacles was also clearly added due to the success of the far superior segments from the Half-Life series.

This random mishmash of elements continues right through the game, though it does get progressively more boring as it goes along. Early in the game Duke suddenly gets shrunk and goes driving around in a remote control car, for no explained reason. Another time you get shrunk again for one of the most irritating FPS platforming sequences since the Xen homeworld. It’s like every idea that anyone had during development was thrown in with no regard to whether it made any sense at all. Most galling of all is a random level right in the middle of the game that has no relation to anything else in any way. The game excuses it by having Duke lose consciousness at the end of the previous level and regaining it at the start of the following one. The level is called Duke Nukem’s Titty City and involves wandering around a strip club full of topless women trying to find a dildo to give to one of the strippers so that she’ll give a private lap dance. You may need to read that line again for it to sink in just how ridiculous that is. You can gain bonus achievements in the club by going around playing air hockey and pinball and performing various other activities, none of which are relevant to the game in any way. Extra features are nice, but not when they’re forced into the game in such a stupid way.

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What a classy game.

That level also illustrates one of the more unpleasant aspects of the game, namely its appalling level of sexism. Now admittedly Duke Nukem 3D was never especially politically correct, but it was a parody of a certain type of misogynistic action hero. It wasn’t subtle, but it was clearly satirical in nature for the most part, though at times possibly going a bit too far. In Duke Nukem Forever, there’s no hint of any satire whatsoever. It doesn’t resemble any form of traditional action hero, it’s simply full of tasteless, crude and unfunny attempts at jokes. It goes beyond the level of strip clubs and women throwing themselves at Duke too. When the game gets to the alien levels, it becomes genuinely repulsive. These areas contain giant breasts and a loading screen says “You can slap our wall boobs since most girls don’t like it when you slap theirs.” Duke walks around locations surrounded by the screams of tortured women and makes jokes about them. At one point here he meets up with two twins of his acquaintance and finds they have been raped and forcibly impregnated by aliens, and all they care about is promising to lose the weight again so they can look good for Duke. Seconds before they die a horrible death. DNFs repugnant attitude towards women makes Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude seem almost respectful.

Hmm…the entire Thief series, the entire Metal Gear Solid series, the entire Splinter Cell series, in fact the whole modern stealth genre was created while this game was in development.

There’s an immaturity running throughout Duke Nukem Forever that surpasses anything Duke Nukem 3D contained and which is far less excusable for the time it has been released. There’s no intelligence behind any of the “jokes” the game bores us with. The game occasionally attempts to join the present state of gaming, such as in the interactive opening area, but it’s thwarted by the fact that the interaction involves things such as pissing into a urinal or picking excrement out of the toilet and throwing it at walls. It’s hardly high art. Duke Nukem Forever is a below average shooter, and would barely have made average even if it had been released ten years earlier. But from that low starting point, it’s dragged down even further by its garbled design, its poor implementation of all the elements it has ripped off from other games and its puerile sense of humour. Speaking of which, given the games obsession with toilet humour, I feel justified in saying in an uncharacteristically blunt manner: Duke Nukem Forever is shit.

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Duke demonstrates his hilarious sense of humour.

Everything this game should have been was achieved much better by the Serious Sam games years earlier. That series was created during the time DNF was in development you know? And so was the entire Fallout series. And so was the Medal of Honor series. And so was the Call of Duty series. And so was the Silent Hill series. And the Starcraft games. And…

Save System Review: Checkpoints, mostly not too badly spaced but occasionally had to repeat chunks of game that were a little too long. Not too bad, but not ideal.
Graphics: Passable but very dated by the time the game was out. The textures aren’t very detailed and the character models are quite low quality.
Sound: Sound effects are about average. Voices aren’t too bad, it’s what they’re saying that’s the problem.
Bugs: Nothing much specific that I encountered, just a general aura of shoddy workmanship.
Gameplay: Generic FPS gameplay with occasional inexplicable detours. Playable but unspectacular.
Storyline: Story isn’t an important part to a Duke game, with a basic alien invasion plot covering it. The awful sexist connotations and toilet humour pervade the game though.

Arbitrary Final Score: 24%

If you like this, you might also like: laughing at swear words like a child.

Thu, Jan. 5th, 2012, 11:15 pm
The Big 2012 Gaming Preview

A grumpy gits uninformative guide to the upcoming games of 2012.
In alphabetical order, so you’ll have to hunt through to find the highlights. Written in random order and then rearranged for extra confusion.

Previews of loads of gamesCollapse )

Sat, Dec. 3rd, 2011, 11:46 pm
Some random comments about music and games

I'm currently playing The Witcher 2. The original Witcher was a decent RPG but with a few too many flaws to be a true classic. The Witcher 2 has fixed all of these and so far I'm thinking it's one of the best RPGs I've ever played. I think I'm currently about a third to a half of the way through so things could change, but I can't see that happening. One of the best things about it is that it deals with adult themes in an adult way without making a fuss about it. It's not just that they've thrown some swearing and nudity in (though there is quite a lot of swearing and regular nudity.) It's the fact that there's no real good and bad, many of the people you meet aren't especially pleasant, and it's hard to decide that one side or the other is right or wrong. You just have to make some tough decisions as best you can and accept that things aren't going to always work out the way you intend them. In fact, small decisions can have major unforeseen consequences later in the game. Dragon Age did a good job of making a more mature RPG with a darker setting, but compared to The Witcher it was practically Narnia. And that's why I love this game so far.
Currently The Witcher 2 is only out on PC, but it's coming to Xbox 360 in the next few months, so if you're unable to play on PC, you don't have to miss out.

A few comments on some random albums I've been listening to:
Brian Wilson - In the Key of Disney: The Beach Boys vocalist and Disney seems like a perfect match, but the album didn't quite work. It has some decent moments including a bizarre mostly instrumental melding of Heigh-Ho, Whistle While You Work and A Pirates Life For me, a couple of decent covers of Baby Mine and Kiss the Girl, and a predictably nice version of When You Wish Upon a Star. The problems lie partly with the disappointing song selection that isn't always suitable for Wilson's style (Two Elton John Lion King songs? Two Randy Newman Toy Story songs?) and partly with the unusually flat performances on much of it. Not much more than a curiosity overall.

Scott Walker - The Drift: A major contrast to the above, this is the most disturbingly bleak and scary album I've ever listened to. I really don't feel capable of actually reviewing the album just yet. I think it's something that needs time to sink in. It sounds like nothing I've ever heard before, but it's all the more extraordinary for that. It's a long way from his Walker Brothers days. The song Cue in particular I found really disturbing, and it's hard to pin point exactly why this is without actually hearing it. However creepy and at times downright terrifying the album might be though, I'm strangely compelled to listen to it again.

I'm writing more than I intended to so I'll try and be more brief with the rest. Join Us is a return to form by They Might Be Giants after some decent but disappointing releases. It's easily their best album is over a decade and feels like their earlier work. Bad As Me is a predictably great album from Tom Waits that covers just about every style he's performed in his career, yet within a surprisingly brief running time. Hell Broke Luce is a particular highlight, being an angry anti-war song from the perspective of a soldier that avoids any hint of sentimentality and is full on Waits stomp and growl. A Testimonial Dinner is an XTC tribute album and Hello Radio is a They Might Be Giants tribute album, both of which have the odd decent cover on them, but are mostly fairly mediocre and not really worth hunting out.

I was going to post a video of one of my favourite Christmas songs, "A Change at Christmas" by the Flaming Lips, to close the post in a nice festive way, but annoyingly I can't find any. The only one I can find on Youtube has had the audio removed by the Warner Music Group. The WMG says bah humbug and wishes everyone a dreadful Christmas. I can't think of anything else to post as a replacement, so I'll have to leave this in a decidedly unfestive and sudden way instead.

Sat, Mar. 13th, 2010, 09:43 pm
Watchmen

Several months after buying Watchmen, I finally got round to actually watching it the other night. I wasn't really expecting too much from it, and it didn't disappoint me or surprise me. It wasn't a dreadful film, but it wasn't an especially good one either.

Consider this a spoiler warning if anyone thinks it actually matters for this film.

Thoughts on WatchmenCollapse )

Tue, Feb. 9th, 2010, 10:43 pm
Poem and review

First, I'll repost the poem that I posted the other week, and then deleted again a few days ago in one of my many random moments of doubt. I didn't think anyone would notice it was gone, but it seems curiositykate did so I'll post it and hopefully won't randomly delete it again this time.

snow.clickCollapse )

*********************

I also realised I never posted my Batman: Arkham Asylum review on here. So here that is too:

Batman: Arkham Asylum - The ReviewCollapse )

Sat, Jan. 23rd, 2010, 07:00 pm
A prayer for the digital age

'Puter Noster

Our parent, which art on C drive,
Program Files be thy name.
Thy case fans hum,
Thy defrag done,
On web as it is on hard drive.
Give us this day our daily blog,
And forgive us our spamming,
As we forgive those who post spam on our sites.
And lead us not into frustration,
But deliver us from spyware.
For thine is the OS,
The power and the modem,
For error and error,
*CRITICAL SYSTEM FAILURE*

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