Mar 04

Is it just me, or are trailers for video games nowadays getting a bit heavy on the music? I don’t know what first brought this to mind, but when I looked back at the trailer videos for a few games that had caught my eye recently I noticed that they all followed a similar pattern: lots of frenetic action, overlaid with a song. No (or very little) sound from the game, nothing to really set the mood, get interest in the story…just visuals and an (occasionally piss-poor) track playing along.

Take, for example, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations:

Or, the upcoming Aliens: Colonial Marines game, which I keep trying to tell my inner eight-year old self will be alright to play (he doesn’t believe me):

Gears of War 3 even managed two! First one:

Second one:

Even giant robots get into the swing of things, with the recent Fall of Cybertron trailer giving it the full “Merriman Weir” treatment:

All of which isn’t a massive problem – game makers can, of course, present their games however they like without referring them to a balding misanthrope in central Scotland for final approval on the marketing front. What strikes me as odd about the whole thing, though, is the fact that almost all games nowadays are far more involved than the relatively simple things that I believe most people think of when you say the words “video games”, where one pushes buttons to make a rotund Italian plumber jump up and down. They are stories, they build up narratives, they let the player make choices, become immersed in the world, familiar with the characters and, I would argue, the end result is that the player cares about the characters and situations they are playing through on screen. I can’t help but think that this process might be helped if the trailers let some of that come across, instead of bludgeoning us with some fairly intrusive music while allowing tiny little bits of sound from the game peep through in the background occasionally.

To defend my point, compare the Fall of Cybertron trailer above with the trailer for the first game – War for Cybertron – below:

Look at that. More importantly, listen to that. The two main characters in the game get dialogue. They set out, very quickly, the differences between the good guys and the bad guys. They set a tone, you get an interesting hook into the story, you see that underneath the whole giant-robots-fighting malarkey there might be the core of a decent sci-fi story in there, one that you might get to take part in if you hand over the ready cash*. It gives the voice artists a chance to shine, and builds a far more complete picture of what sort of game you might be buying in a few weeks / months. Compare that to the trailer for the second game – what do you get from that? The yellow thing looks hurt because its eyes look a bit flickery, and the sudden urge to buy some real ale. That’s about it.

I’m not saying that music shouldn’t play a part in game trailers – it should – but to me the trailer for a game should make me want to buy the game instead of making me want to nip onto Google and find out what was the name of that track playing all through the bloody thing.

 

* Plus, one of the characters BACKHANDS A MISSILE. Even for a giant robot, that’s fucking hardcore and should function as a selling point for anyone.

Feb 14

Xbox 360 controller

Too many times I think a conversation like this one happens when people are developing computer games:

Person 1: “Right, so as they go from level to level, things get gradually tougher. Harder puzzles, stronger enemies, that kind of thing. Right?”

Person 2: “Right. Except for this point right here, where we’re just going to jack it right up to ‘impossible’ and see what happens.”

Person 1: “What, with no warning? No gradient? Just a sudden leap from manageable to impossible? What do you call that?”

Person 2: “Ah, you see, we call that a challenge. The users will love it.”

Now it would be very easy to assume that this is sour grapes because I am playing a video game and can’t get past a particular section* but I have played enough games, and experienced this phenomenon enough times, to think that such a conversation might well take place during the game development process. A game builds up an enjoyable level of challenge, gets gradually tougher to match your increasing level of comfort, and then BOOM – unkillable enemy / neverending swarm of enemies / puzzle that fucking Einstein would have to have looked up on YouTube to get a walkthrough. Or, even worse, a game that is unbeatable at level 10 if you make the wrong decision on level 7. Didn’t save at the right point? Upgraded the wrong thing? Didn’t buy that ammo / map / health pack when you had the chance? Well that’s you bucko, might as well go back to the start.

Or, even worse, a maze. I always think that a maze is a game developer’s way of telling the player that he/she would much rather get to the pub and have a drink. Need to extend the game a bit? Whack in a maze. Because nothing makes dropping 40 quid on a game feel worth it than wandering around a fucking maze. If I wanted to do that, do you know what I would do? PUT OFF THE CONSOLE AND GO TO A MAZE. Then there’s the selective agility issue – I’ve lost count of how many times in a game I have controlled a character who has beaten up bad guys, leapt from roofs, pulled off all sorts of superhuman stunts and then can’t climb a waist-high wall to get to an objective. Why? Because the game developer wants you to go over there and fight a bad guy. Never mind that the thing you are looking for is two feet away over a garden fence and your character has so many muscles on him that from a distance he would just look like a particularly threatening penis, you can’t get it. Go do what you’re told.

All of which tells me that it’s time to get out a book and read for a while. Feel free to laugh and point.

* Easy, perhaps, because that’s pretty close to what it is. I never claimed to be a saint. But I will say this: FUCK YOU, DEAD SPACE 2. FUCK YOU.

Oct 20

Early editions of "Playboy" were surprisingly popular

So, I have been mucking about with my blog and have installed a new thing – a little toolbar over to the right, that shows the book I am reading at the moment, and my progress through said book. I am currently 95 pages into “The Evolutionary Void” by Peter F. Hamilton, and it’s very good. I bought it when I was out picking up presents for my wife’s birthday. When she asked me that night what I was most pleased with, it’s a testament to her good nature that she didn’t hit me when I blurted out “The new Peter F. Hamilton book!” in a moment of selfish, but unguarded, honesty.

Anyway, as if my occasional blatherings here weren’t enough to bore you to tears, you now get to follow what I am reading, too. All through the power of the internet. You’re welcome.

Sep 28

Outsourced - now with added smug grin!

For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of reviewing a TV show, just to see if it’s something that I enjoy doing. After all, I like watching TV and am unfortunately very talented when it comes to being judgemental and passing comment on the efforts of those more creative and driven than I am, so it seemed like a good area of overlap for me to explore. Then the question of what to review arose – a show that has been running for a while? Random episode of something? A show I am a fan of? Something completely new? When I read about “Outsourced”, a new sitcom starting in the US, it seemed like a good opportunity to get in at the ground floor on a new show. So here I am.

The premise is simple: young, up-and-coming, handsome all-American salesman Todd Dempsey (Ben Rappaport) works for a company that sells complete and utter tat – sorry, novelty items – to the good men and women that people the United States of Merka. Said company undergoes a bout of downsizing and Todd’s entire department is outsourced to a call centre in India. Instead of being fired, Todd is offered a promotion if he will go over there to run the operation. Can you see the comic potential? Anyway, Todd makes the move, finds out that India is chock-full of brown-skinned people with funny customs and hi-la-rious accents, and gets to show that Americans are the best. Fuck yeah!

Believe me, I wish I was joking or exaggerating in some way. This is my first review, after all. I’m not. I’m really, really not.

This is a show so offensive, so full of lowbrow, obvious jokes, so lazy in its frankly insulting ethnic caricatures that if he were alive today even Bernard Manning would be squirming in his seat and looking a bit nauseated. Hell, I think that even Nick Griffin would probably wait until the commercial break and turn over, his wonky eye spinning wildly like the Fourth Reich’s version of Mad-Eye Moody. The overall impression that you get from watching “Outsourced” is that a stray signal from a TV station in 1973 has somehow slipped through a time-space wormhole to emerge in 2010. This is a show that would have to tunnel upwards for three days through bedrock to hit the bottom of the Jim Davidson level of humour. Now I know how Sam Tyler felt having to deal with Gene Hunt.

What’s that you say, entirely made up voice that signifies one side of a fictitious conversation to enable me to move from one section of the review to another, you think I must be exaggerating? Oh no, gentle fictional person, I am really not, trust me. Examples abound:

  • When he first moves to India, Todd looks out at the busy streets and comments that the roads are like “…Frogger, but with real people.” Ha! Ha!
  • Todd’s assistant manager Rajiv (Rizwan Manji) introduces the staff and explains that he has hired a woman of a “lower caste” in order for Todd to fire her, thus demonstrating his fearsome power. Ha! Ha! Because caste systems are something to laugh at, aren’t they? Fear him, tiny Indian woman! FEAR THE POWER OF THE AMERICAN! Ha! Ha!
  • When Todd meets one of his salesmen, Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan) he can’t help but laugh that his name sounds like “Man meat”. You know, like “penis”, right? Ha! Ha! They say a week is a long time in politics? It is nothing to 14 seconds of that joke being rolled out on screen*. If you close your eyes, you can almost see the writing on the page that says, “Wait for audiences to stop laughing.”
  • This is the same Manmeet, by the way, that later has to have it explained to him by Todd that in America, land of milk and honey, you’re allowed to date a girl before you marry her. A prospect that Manmeet treats as unbelievably fantastic. And who wouldn’t? This is America we’re talking about here! Ha! Ha!
  • Of course, Todd makes a hilarious joke about all the funny hats people wear in India. Man in Turban immediately stands up and leaves. Woman wearing head-dress just looks uncomfortable. Can’t say I blame her. But Ha! Ha! Because they all wear funny stuff over there, don’t they?
  • In that same meeting, of course there’s a cow looking in the window. The cow, Todd has explained to him, is sacred to the Hindu religion. To which Todd, of course, asks what time lunch is. Because he’s thinking of burgers! Ha! Ha!
  • At lunch, Todd meets fellow American Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader) who runs a call centre in the same building. He warns Todd not to eat the Indian food because “…if you eat that, you’ll be crapping yourself for five days.” Because all Indian food is poisonous slop, isn’t it? Ha! Ha!
  • The above happens seconds before Charlie calls over a member of his sales team and makes him speak in an American accent, to show he is one of the “A team” – that is, a desirable employee because he can sound like he’s American. Because who wants to talk to an Indian guy, right? Ha! Ha!

You know what, enough with the examples. You get the idea. Surely the fact that I have been able to put together a bulleted list should point to some fairly glaring problems.

The thing is, there is genuine comedy potential in a sitcom that examines cultural differences. One that pokes fun at both sides of a divide (be it ethnic, social, religious, class based or cultural) and finds things to both send up and admire in both. However, where potential exists, it is counterbalanced by the temptation to be lazy, to not stretch and to rely on stereotypes. This is the trap “Outsourced” doesn’t so much fall into as jump, eyes wide open, shouting “Geronimo!” Instead of finding something funny to say the writers instead settle quite quickly into a tired old groove that mainly rotates around laughing at Indian people because they’re Indian, have funny accents and say things like “You are most perceptive. As they say in America, your elevator goes to the penthouse.” ** Oh, and they eat funny food that gives you the shits (which is the final joke of the pilot – yes, the final joke. The last joke of the premier episode, and that’s how they choose to bow out.)

As a genuine fan of American comedy this show annoys me – American TV sometimes gets a bad rap and is immediately dismissed as appealing to the lowest common denominator, which is rubbish. Look at “Seinfeld”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, “Arrested Development” or the US version of “The Office” to see what good American writers can do with comedy. As a human being living in a multi-ethnic society, this show just made me plain uncomfortable. Poking fun at ethnic differences is one thing. Showing the American swanning around with a shit-eating grin condescending to the natives is quite another. As a fan of TV in general it positively enrages me, because something that might have been actual quality probably got bumped to make way for this dross.

So all in all, I think I could probably have picked a better show for my first go at this whole reviewing lark. Just one final point, a little bit of advice should you ever have the misfortune of having to watch this crap: at the end of the last scene, when the screen fades to black, you’ll probably notice that you have a nagging sense of something being missing. No, it’s not the ability to get those 22 minutes of your life back. It’s because you’re half expecting a reedy voice to start singing out “Land of Hope and Glory” in an Indian accent before Windsor Davies bellows out “SHUUUT UUUUP!” You’re welcome.

“Outsourced”. Give it a miss. I wish I had.

* Believe me, 14 seconds. I timed it. And cringed.

** Word for word quote. Honest.

Sep 11

Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain

Couldn’t help but laugh reading an article on The Scotsman website today. Our wonderful First Minister / Sontaran lookalike Alex Salmond was quoted today defending his party from attacks because it has skipped on including a referendum bill in it’s last parliamentary session before the elections. For a nationalist party elected on the promise of…well, I suppose…nationalism, it’s a bit of a glaring omission. However, this was elevated by First Minister Potato-Head’s brilliant defense. Aaaaaaand I quote:

However, Mr Salmond claimed there was no point bringing the bill forward when it was clearly about to be voted down.

“If the arithmetic of this chamber denies the will of the people, then we shall take our case to the country,” he announced, stating his aim to put the referendum at the heart of next year’s election campaign.

The report did not mention whether or not he opened a hatch on his back and pulled out his angry eyes at this point. I know where my money is going.

Now far be it from me to point out something to one of the leading political minds of our generation, even if he does look like someone grew a really huge root vegetable and taught it to wear a suit and tie, but wasn’t it the will of the people that determined the arithmetic of the chamber he has to work in? We did have an election, didn’t we? That returned party members based on votes cast by the people, right? Well in that case, Eck old son, don’t try to blame the makeup of the parliament for you not getting to do your “hoots mon” song and dance routine. Maybe if you presented a more convincing case in the first place, that arithmetic might look a bit different.

But you didn’t.

So it doesn’t.

Welcome to democracy.

Jun 08

Pointy man - go on now, go!

Without wanting to sound too much like a cut-price, Tesco own-brand Larry David*, I am very bad at the goodbye section of a phone call. I just can’t seem to get the timing right for toffee, and the more I think about it the more I come to realise that it’s actually a very delicate balancing act. One I am monumentally bad at.

Depending on how it goes during a phone call, I usually end up at one of the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1: outstayed my welcome

This is when I ramble on, missing the cues from the other person that they want to end the call. As I ramble they go from sending polite signals of “I really should be going now” down the line until they descend, drooling and raving, into the realm of “I will crack my own teeth with a toffee hammer and shit myself in public if it means you will hang up.”

There then follows an awkward series of “umms” and “ahhs” as the sensibe part of my brain tries to grab the controls and point the conversation in the direction of the exit, and the phone handset in the direction of the cradle. Scenario 1 is most often encountered when I am using a desk phone.

Scenario 2: you’ll have had your tea then

And then we have the other extreme, where I end the call quickly and then think of about five things I meant to talk about with the person. Is usually followed by a sheepish phone call that falls under scenario 1, or repeats scenario 2 until I implode with embarassment and just email the person instead.

Quite often I end a call with “That’s great, cheers now!” but sometimes it just seems to get out of sequence and pop up in what should be the middle of the call. Scenario 2 tends to rear its head when I am using my mobile. I think that this is because the terrifyingly short time it takes to heat up against my ear causes all sorts of scary thoughts about dangerous radiation to go through my head**.

Very, very rarely do I get it exactly right, and end up at the right point in the phone call in the right order, at the same time as the other person. Well, when I say “very rarely” I mean “never”, of course. I don’t consider myself to be that socially awkward, I’m usually good enough at picking up on conversational cues (if anything, in person I tend to be reserved) but put me on the end of a phone and I’m suddenly helpless, cast rudderless on a sea of conversational turmoil with waves of potential embarassment crashing across my fo’csle***. I’m not an idiot, really. Pity me. Just don’t phone me to say so.

* I say this because I am sure there is an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” that deals with the offense Larry causes by not knowing how to end a phone call properly. Can’t remember the name of it and I would phone my wife to ask, but you know how that goes for me.

** Funnily enough, much like radiation actually would go through my head.

*** Sounds more painful than it is, don’t worry.

Apr 15

Me and my wife have certain clearly defined areas of responsibility. As she is a passionate and committed maths-phobe, I handle bills and stuff that involves any number crunching. As I am a fat, lazy, work-shy bastard with about as much creativity as a paperclip, she gets to plan and look after the garden. Right now it’s just grass but she wants to make it something nicer. I’ll do the heavy lifting and dig as required, but as in so many areas of our lives, she’s the brains of the operation.

So with that in mind, when my missus asked to go to a garden centre at the weekend I happily obliged (driving? that’s under my name on the list too) and off we went. Inspiration was sought, ideas were had and we even managed to grab a cream cake too (otherwise I would end up a skinny, lazy, work-shy bastard, which just wouldn’t be right). We were just about to leave when we spotted this beauty for sale:

Perennialis Mortis: commonly known as the zombie flower

And just in case you want to, you can click on the image above to see a larger version. You know, just to really get the whole feel of the thing. So we had a bit of a laugh, wondered who would buy such a thing, took a picture to show friends and post online and prepared to be on our way. It was all going well, right up to the point where a woman from the garden centre staff walked past us, picked it up, looked past us and said “Right sir, I’ll just leave it at the cash desk for you.” to the man who had been standing right behind us the whole time.

OK, so we got our comeuppance for maybe being a bit snobby and had to make a bit of a sharp exit, with appropriately reddened cheeks*. That said, what sort of garden theme does that guy have in mind? “Well Phoebe, I know you just wanted somewhere nice to relax, but I thought it would be nicer to blend pastoral with the terror of the zombie apocalypse.” Or perhaps, “Oh that, Vicar? Quite a piece, isn’t it? Makes you think about that whole rapture thing, what what?”. I think the thought process runs a bit like this:

Zombie venn diagram wants braaaaains

We didn’t get a chance to see if there was a switch that made the eyes light up like the Hood from Thunderbirds, but if something like that hasn’t been included then it’s a missed opportunity. Maybe some speakers to allow the keen gardener / weaver of nightmares for a generation of children on the street to record their own moans of the undead? A hose in the mouth to spray viscous green fluid, Exorcist-style, over any cat or dog trying to piss on the herbaceous border? You know, now I think about it, it has possibilities. I wonder if I can get the missus to swap and develop a new appreciation for numbers…

* Make of that what you will. I do not judge. Well, except if you buy a fucking zombie for your garden, obviously.

Apr 13

Right, how many modern TV shows adhere to the format below? How much of the output from how many stations starts at step 1 before plodding the weary, well-trodden path to the end? And how many of us, just looking to relax after a hard day at work, are caught in the gradient of inevitability that surrounds such televisual masterpieces? Ten points and shiny prize* if you can identify some yourself.

Modern TV flowchart

So, how many did you get? With some slight variations in format, I can pick up the following just off the top of my head:

Parenting: Supernanny

Makeup / dressing: Snog, Marry, Avoid

Cleaning: How Clean Is Your House?

Cooking: Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares

Work: The Business Inspector

Hotel: The Hotel Inspector

Surviving: Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum

It’s late, I’m tired and am about to go to bed, but those just flew off the top of my head. I’m a massive Star Trek fan so am no stranger to formulaic TV that elevates “variations on a theme” to an artform (Enterprise visits planet, encounters threat, Kirk kicks the crap out of alien man / pumps** alien woman, Enterprise flies off with bridge crew enjoying hearty laugh) but this assembly-line TV is just insulting. And boring. Boring boring boring boring boring***.

* Prize may not be shiny. Terms and conditions apply once I make them up.

** Yes, pumps. I could have said “shags” or something else, but I went for pumps. Blame Irvine Welsh, my recent re-reading of “Glue” and “Porno” has obviously warped my innocent mind.

*** Boring. Booooooring. And I don’t mean entertainingly boring, like Last Of The Summer Wine for the last billion series. I mean Nick Clegg boring.

Mar 04

Lovely spam, wonderful spam spammity spammity spam

So here’s a funny thing – just at the end of last year, I wrote about how I managed to completely mess up a WordPress installation and lose my blog’s database, posts, comments, the whole shebang. I quickly rebuilt what I could but the damage was done. In that post (you can, if you’re interested, see it here) I whimsically used an image of an angry Malcolm Tucker for two reasons: to illustrate my mood (not good) and because it actually mirrored the expression I had on my face when everything went so terribly, badly wrong.

Since that fateful day all the comments I have received here at the Boiled Egg Of Infinity have all been spam and all but one have been directed at that single post. Now, assuming that spammers haven’t all been charmed en masse by my writing skills, what could explain the attraction? Seriously, all the spam for my blog has been going to that one, single post. I have come to the conclusion that the spammers have all been attracted by the image of Malcolm Tucker who, as we all know but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s my blog and my rules, is played to perfection by Peter Capaldi. Or, to give him his full title, Peter Capaldi, Lord of Spam.

Now, to follow that bombshell in a logical and sensible manner, there are a number of possibilities to explain this link, all of which have worrying implications for us all:

  1. That Peter Capaldi has achieved this level of devotion because he is responsible for sending all of those emails that plague us so much (“Please help, I am the unwanted stepchild of the King of All Oil and Gold and want to smuggle money out of the country using a total stranger’s bank account.”).
  2. That Peter Capaldi’s spammer legions owe him fealty because he spends all of his money from the BBC on phishing scams, thus making him their “go-to” guy on the internet. Did his wages from the excellent 3rd series of “The Thick Of It” get wasted on paying expenses for having won the Internet Lottery?
  3. That Peter Capaldi has in fact managed to upload his consciousness to the internet and has become a transcendent data-based lifeform, existing only as a pattern of energy moving from network to network, and the imprint of his thought patterns on the ever-flowing stream of digital information has inadvertantly brought about this Capaldi-Spammers connection.

Now I’m just one guy, no expert and have never once met Peter Capaldi (who seems like a lovely man / physical-avatar-of-a-next-evolutionary-level-distributed-artificial-intelligence) but accepting the terms of my argument one of those possibilities has to be true. That’s just logic, that is*.

* Please note this is not logic. Terms and conditions apply.

Dec 31

I am still shouting this. A lot.

Right, here are some things I learned today:

  1. When you’re upgrading a WordPress installation and it tells you time and time again to make a backup of your database, it really really means it.
  2. If you’re nervous because you never upgraded a WordPress installation before and you think you have backed up the database, do make sure that you actually have backed it up before you do anything that involves deleting and replacing stuff.
  3. No, seriously, make sure. Make really sure. Go and check again.

I mention all of this because if, for example, it turns out that you didn’t backup the database after all, have lost everything and need to start from scratch, then you’re left sitting at a laptop feeling like a complete tit with an overwhelming urge to shout obscenties at the reflection staring out at you from the screen.

All of which leaves you with an expression like this:

Angry face

Above: What do you mean, you deleted the database?

So from me, and my safe pair of hands, I bid you goodnight.