Essential Avengers ~ Volume One

•June 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Due to my ever decreasing comics budget I’ve decided it’s time to make a start on my collection of Marvel Essentials. For those that don’t know, the Essential’s series is basically a budget range featuring collections of classic comics reprinted in black and white on low quality paper, but are excellent value for money, with upwards of 24 issues in each book, and are a great way to get into Marvel’s massive back catalogue. I’ve been slowly working through Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-men for a while now, but have decided to take a break from it for a while and move onto something else. After a little indecision, with The Defenders and Doctor Strange both being strong candidates, I decided to go with The Avengers and jumped right in. What can I say about it? It’s slightly insane… but completely brilliant. Take this for example:

In the first issue The Hulk is on the run after Loki frames him for a crime, and decides to lay low in a circus whilst disguised as a juggling robot clown named Mechano. Juggling… Robot… Clown! Seriously! Just look at him! He dressed himself up like this thinking it was a good idea! What was going through his head? Hulk Smashed? The strangest part of all? Nobody thought it was in the least bit unusual! I’m loving it though – the early days of Marvel could be quite surreal, and I’m all for that!

Excelsior!

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Journey – A few quick thoughts

•June 19, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It’s taken me a while to get around to playing Journey. I’m not sure why this is, as I awaited its release with a great deal of anticipation, fully expecting to love it, and Flower, its spiritual predecessor, is one of my most cherished gaming experiences ever. However something didn’t click when I first loaded up the game, maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind? It’s hard to say. I have played it now though, I sat down and went through it in one sitting the other night, and for what it’s worth I really enjoyed the experience. It was a bit of a puzzler though, I didn’t get it immediately the way I did with Flower, nor did it speak to me as directly. Even now after finishing the game, I’m not really sure what I got out of it. I’m still not sure what the journey was about. Of course in simple terms a journey should be about the journey, and in some respects perhaps I’m thinking too much about it. One of my favourite poems is ‘Ithaca’ by Cavafy which ends with the lines:

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.

Arriving there is what your are destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

So you’re old by the time you reach the island,

Wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

Not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvellous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

You’ll have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

Which I think says it much better than I ever could. I think the mistake I made with Journey was being selfish and playing it offline, playing on my own made me miss out on what this journey truly had to offer, which was to travel with another soul and experience the journey through their eyes too, to see them react to the world and to their place in it, as well as my own. Thinking about it now… I definitely need another playthrough!

Dragon Age 2 Revisited

•May 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dragon Age 2 is a game that seems to polarize the Dragon Age fanbase. I know people who loved the first title, but loathed number two with a passion, and even amongst people who enjoyed the sequel, the general consensus is that it’s not as good as Origins. To be honest I tend towards this viewpoint myself. The thing is… I’m fine with that. You see, I appreciate that the developers went for something different with this. I appreciate that they decided against the massively popular concept of sheparding a single protagonist through the entire series (see what I did there) and gave us a new hero for Dragon Age 2. What’s more I appreciate that they told a story that eschewed a lot of the common tropes that fantasy games can fall into.

Now I’m not saying that Dragon Age 2 is a beautiful and unique snowflake, but it is different. For starters there is no big bad for the player to measuring themselves against, and rather than a journey through a massive fantasy space, we get a journey through a space in time. Ten years in the life of a would be hero. It’s a great concept! Yes, the implementation of this concept has its flaws. The city of Kirkwall, which is the setting for the game, began to get tired as we visited the same locations again and again. What’s more I think this is something that wasn’t too difficult to remedy with a bit of tweaking. The developers could have changed the city ever so slightly with each act. For instance, setting the second act during a festival of some kind, hanging banners from the buildings, and setting revellers in the streets could have spiced things up. Something that wouldn’t have taken up too many resources, but would have made the setting sufficiently different as to keep the player engaged. In the final act? I don’t know… maybe have the city reaching boiling point with pro or anti mage propaganda on the walls, grafitti in the poorer areas of town, more guards and templars on the streets, and knots of citizens protesting one way or another, again, not too much of a strain on resources, and again, you give the player a slight different backdrop to play against.

For the record the reused dungeons weren’t something that bothered me, I expect to use my imagination when playing a game, so this is something I could forgive. When I balance Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 in my head though? As much as I loved the characters and story of Origins I did find the combat a little clunky, the only class I really enjoyed playing was the mage. With Dragon Age 2, I’m quite happy to agree with the multitude and say that the story was not as engaging as Origins, and the characters not as memorable (but let’s be fair who can compare to the likes of Alistair, Leliana and, Morrigan? Well… there is Varric!) but the gameplay was a blast! So the actual pleasure I got from both games, the enjoyment factor, was roughly the same.

So here is my plan. I’ve only played Dragon Age 2 to completion once, and I have three sets of DLC that remain unplayed. The Exiled Prince, Legacy, and Mark of the Assassin. So I’m going to go through it again, and post up my thoughts here. Kind of like those ‘Let’s Play’ videos you get on youtube, but in words. I wish I had a webcam so I could do this properly, but I don’t, and seeing as I’m pretty broke at the moment… that’s not really an option. If this goes well however, I might invest in one for my next game. We will see!

I am going to play in hard mode, that way I might end up with some interesting combat stories to tell and make up for the lack of visuals, and I’m going to play as a female Hawke who will be a mage. Wish me luck!

Tears in Rain – Random Musings on Blade Runner

•November 30, 2011 • 2 Comments

I found myself watching Blade Runner last night, after all this time this scene still resonates, it really is something special.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time… to die.

One of the most famous scenes in cinema right? But I think really captures the tragedy of human existance. We’ve all seen attack ship on fire off the shoulder of Orion, and watched C-beams glitter. Whether that was seeing your baby boy for the first time, or the way that girl looked at you across a noisy bar, even that warm glow you got inside after eating an especially good piece of cheese on toast. Then, when we pass, they’re gone… lost in time, like tears in rain. Imagine all those lost moments stretching back over time, billions of stories over thousands of year. Imagine all we could have learned from them, because that right there is our real history. When Goethe says something like ‘He who cannot draw on three thousand years of history is living from hand to mouth.’ He’s not really talking about the great battles of tyrants and madmen, but all those lost lives and loves, hopes and fears. Well actually… maybe he is talking about tyrants and madmen… I never knew the guy… but was does he know? I’m telling you different!

So next time you feel like giving your friend a lecture about wasting their time sitting in front of the telebox watching reality TV or discussing X-factor like it’s something really important, just remember that to them it is. Don’t judge them for it, don’t try to change them. They just like different stories, see different starships. Acceptance and tolerance begins right there. All our lives are tears in rain, the real trick is to capture those tears and to crystalize them, to take them into your heart and turn them into jewels. Pass your stories on! I don’t know whether God exists, or whether there is some golden afterlife waiting for us when that final sleep falls upon us, but that’s immortality right there, a way we can all live on and maybe teach something to those that come after… or at least make them smile.

Top Five ~ Gaming Intros

•July 16, 2011 • 2 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve done a top five – and seeing as they are one of the few things I post that get some nice feedback I thought I’d do another one. This time my top five gaming intros. We all have games that got us all worked up even before we picked up the control pad – so here are mine!

5 – Marvel Ultimate Alliance

This game has never been considered a classic, and rightly so I guess, it’s neither deep, groundbreaking, nor especially memorable… it is however a lot of fun. This intro captures that perfectly, it got me pumped up anyway. I have a soft spot for it, and so it find it’s way onto my list at number five!

4 – GTA III

Okay so this game is considered a classic, but you may be surprised to see the intro on this list. I have to say though that I think it’s a cracker, and the music is fantastic. I played GTA III a lot back in the day, and this intro never fails to bring it back!

3 – Silent Hill

Anybody who played this game is going to have some pretty big memories of it, and many are the stories I’ve heard of people quitting the game after being unable to get passed ‘that opening part’. Truly an awesome game that took survival horror to another level. And while it could be argued that Silent Hill 2 is the true masterpiece of the series – it never had a kick arse intro like this one did. The music is just beautiful!

2 – Metal Gear Solid 2

I think it’s safe to say you can’t have a top five gaming list without Metal Gear Solid appearing somewhere in it. Personally this is one of my favourite openings ever… for a number of reasons. Harry Gregson Williams’ score to this game is probably the best gaming score ever, and that coupled with the anticiption I had for this title, make the moment I sat down and saw this something really special. It really could have been number one, but no… it just gets pipped!

1 – Final Fantasy VIII

Not my favourite Final Fantasy if I’m honest, that honour goes to FFVII, but this intro wins out because it’s just so damned awesome! Seeing this for the first time just blew me away, it was something I could proudly show to non-gaming friends and say ‘Look! I was right about gaming! It is a new art form!’ Okay that’s not strictly true – all my friends are gamers! But I would totally have said that if they weren’t! Let’s remember this was from the PS1! For it’s time it was really something else, and thanks to the music it still stands on it’s own as a thing of beauty today! Ladies and gentleman I give you Final Fantasy VIII!

In Search of Steve Ditko

•June 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been meaning to post this up for the longest time. People ask me why I love comic books? Watch this documentary and ask me again. Comic books can be just as rewarding as any great piece of literature and they have pictures too! This documentary is probably the best thing you will see on the subject. I give you ‘In Search of Steve Ditko’ – the best comic book documentary ever made.

More Chess Goodness – In Search of the Spanish

•May 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve gone twelve games now without being able to play my favourite opening (and most successful!) with the white pieces, that’s to say: the Ruy Lopez, aka the Spanish Opening. In a lot of ways it’s quite frustating as I’m still trying to learn the ins and outs of the system and need some practice against real players, but at the same time it’s a testament to the myriad combinations chess offers up that instead I’m learning about The French Defense (lots of these), Alekhine’s Defense, The Sicilian… and whatever else my opponents throw at me when I move my first pawn to e4.

On the upside I’m currently playing two games as black with the King’s Indian Defense, which is my favourite position to be in when on the defensive, so I guess I can’t have it both ways. Still I’d love to get some Spanish Games going as I have a couple of new ideas to try out and I’m eager to get them into play!