Archive for the ‘Soapbox’ Category

Where does the weekend go?

Feb 15th, 2009

The third part of the ‘On art and Games’ series won’t be appearing this week, but instead will be up once its done. That’s not to say I’ve been ignoring it, but these things can take a while to put together, and I don’t want to fling the whole thing together in a rush. I’ve also reconsidered the idea of it being a fixed series, as its a far larger topic than I had first suspected. Instead, I expect the series will be interleaved in with other posts, and each article will be more or less self contained.


So this leaves a bit of a stream of conciousness affair here instead. If anyone actually is reading this blog regularly, you’ll have noticed the ‘this weeks tweets’ post which appeared this Wednesday. As you may have gathered, this is an automated weekly affair and ties in with my use of Twitter. You might also have noticed the ‘lifestream’ tab, a page which summarises my activity across the web, perfect for all you stalker types.

Time and Tide

The title of this blog post refers to the weekend’s tendency to disappear. I had intended to get some food shopping done, but suddenly it was six and I hadn’t got to the supermarket. I was in the lab though, before ayone thinks I was in bed. Odly enough this is probably actually a good thing, as I had forgotten than I was heading home later this week for my Mum’s birthday. I had planned a whole week of food.

The Great Train Ticket Gamble1

Oddly, talking of going home I had a great time playing the ‘find the cheapest train ticket’ game. It turns out that the answer was Megatrain from Edinburgh to Birmingham, and then a standard return from Birmingham to Kemble. I could have actually done it cheaper with an offpeak return, but that would have left 15 minutes to change trains in Birmingham, which is a bit tight if one of my connections suffers a delay. I’m still slightly confused at what happened to one of the tickets offered to me between Birmingham and Kemble, as it seemed to change price. This isn’t unusual for ‘advanced’ tickets, but only standard tickets were availible at that point.

And Now for Something Completely Different

This was originally going to go in On Art anf Games [Part3] but never really fitted. So I’ll stick it here instead, where is still doesn’t fit but at least its surroundings are similarly muddled.

I have always felt the term genre is mis-applied when used to describe computer games. In other media, genre describes the theme and style of a piece, whereas when applied to games it is more often used to describe the mechanism. In rare cases, particularly with some more arty indie games concerned with dissecting gaming mechanics, this may be appropriate, but in most cases it isn’t. I think part of the problem is that game-play mechanics are often far more central to games than any vague themes the game may explore; in many games it would be ridiculous to even attempt to identify any ‘themes,’ particularly in the early days when these terms were coined. However, it would be ridiculous to describe a film genre as ‘animated’ or ‘black and white,’ it is still more difficult to even identify an equivalent concept for literature, prose and poetry perhaps. While overarching game-play mechanics are important in defining the tone of a game, and are likely to be one of the primary influences in terms of appeal, I feel the term genre has been misapplied.

And now, finally to football is over, sao I can start watching Being Human.

  1. I almost went for the great train robbery, but the price was fairly reasonable in the end []

Slumdog Millionaire

Jan 25th, 2009

Earlier today I went to see ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ at the local Vue. Firstly meta-commentary: £6.20 for a student ticket! I’m sure the cinema never used to be quite that expensive. Secondly, I do wish people would avoid talking though the film. I’m charitably assuming that one of the women behind me must have been blind, because her friend seemed to narrate was was on the screen every couple of minutes. Then again, the “Oh, this must be where he meets the lassie,” comment, among others, suggests I may being too generous. (Especially as by that stage we had already seen the ‘lassie’ in question several times!)

I first heard about ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ a couple of months ago, certainly before the nationwide US release, and probably around the time it had first been seen in one of the film festivals. I thought it sounded interesting, but then only end up getting round to see it after its critical plaudits, and success at the box office. Sigh.

However, although I enjoyed the film, I felt it fell short of what it could have been. Even allowing for the requirement for flashbacks, the film often felt slightly disjointed. At times I found myself left in confusion as to how Jamal knew something (and I don’t mean the answers to the questions), and although it was possible to deduce the reasons from later in the scene, it often meant the beginning of the scene was slightly confusing. (Although possibly thats just me being slow)

Similarly, I felt there was a lack of narrative cohesion between most of the questions, and the associated flashback. While there is no particular reason why the answer to the question needs to tie in with the story more intimately, I feel it may have been more satisfactory that the use the ideas which in some places felt slightly shoe-horned in. Ironically, had the story been more contrived in places, it would have felt less so.

Oh dear, I make it sound like the film was terrible, when it was anything but. (Not to mention I must sound hypocritical when I say it felt disjointed in places.) I enjoyed the film overall, and felt it was a pretty good example of the way in which the British film industry operates best. The film certainly wouldn’t have come out of Hollywood, and I seriously doubt it could even come out of the American independent films scene. I’m not familiar enough with the Indian film industry to know wether a similar film could have been developed there. Obviously the author of Q&A was Indian, and the film made use of a number of Indian actors (as well as British, Asian actors), however my knowedge of Indian film extends as far as Bollywood, and I don’t what the rest of their film industry is like.

Edit: Whoops, almost forgot my plan to rip-off Rock, Paper, Shotgun and link to a piece of music at the end of my weekly blog posts.

Watching the surfers

Jan 4th, 2009

Right, its Sunday so here I am living up to my new year promise. Probably a bit sketchy today, as I’m more focused on my train journey back to Edinburgh tomorrow. Last time I checked they were still clearing debris from the West Coast Mainline, with delays of up to an hour. According to the info on this should be sorted by Monday. But we shall see.

However, rather than complaining about the rail service (which would be rather unfair given the circumstances in this particular incident) I’m instead directing my eye at the governments proposed crime fighting Internet and phone database.

For those of you not in the know this will stop short of archiving the content of messages (Thank Cod!) “but would have details of sites visited, along with senders, times and recipients of e-mails and calls.” Which frankly, in many cases is enough. While the government clearly hopes to catch communications with (yes, I realize that it will be somewhat more complex than that) they’ll also be building a database that will reveal a huge ammount of information about ordinary citizens.

But perhaps more worrying is that the government is even outsourcing this work. So not only will the govenment have access to this information, but also the random company to which they outsource it. And while the government promises harsh fines if the data is misused, that wont exactly help those who have had their data leaked. And all this before we even consider someone leaving a laptop in Starbucks.

I realise that the most of these records exist already, kept by ISPs and telecoms services. I realise that the police can already gain access to many of these records. But it strikes me that a central database only makes breaches of security more valuable to those who obtain the data, more wide reaching, and very possibly more likely.

Homophobic censorship?

Dec 9th, 2008

Recently it was discovered that the word censor list for the computer game Pure was included in the game install in plain text format. Predictably this has resulted in many people trying to string together the most obscene sentences which will be able to bypass the filter. However for me the list raised another question. Among the filtered words were:





Along with several pejorative terms for describing non-straight people (except poof for some odd reason). What the list didn’t block is straight, heterosexual or any of its variants. This provides gay and bisexual people with little ability to discuss their sexuality, while placing no such restriction on straight folk.
This just continues to reinforce the idea that gay and bisexual people are an ‘other,’ and that there is something dirty or morally corrupt about their sexuality. If the list itself can’t be described as homophobic, it in the very least reveals the deeply rooted homophobia in our society.
Before someone raises the issue, I am well aware that gay and ‘homo’ are used as insults in the same was heterosexual isn’t. However the developer’s approach here is highly unsatisfactory, and I think creates a situation which is worse than the situation they were trying to prevent. By blocking the words, they merely end up re-enforcing the attitude that led to them being considered offensive in the first place.
I feel the developers (or more accurately the publishers, as there is an indication that the list was supplied by Disney) should have either allowed all non-pejorative terms to describe sexuality, or none of them.
If anyone is interested, the banned word lists can be found here.

This post was originally a message on the snopes messageboard.

CORRECTION: The post intended to refer to the game Pure, rather than P.U.R.E, as was mistakenly written in the initial post. I apologise to the creators of P.U.R.E for this mistake.

Good Old Games

Sep 9th, 2008

Good old games is a games download service that allows gamers to buy older titles, especially those which may be a bit difficult to find without trawling the depths of eBay. Like all the best download services, its titles are free of DRM, which means that they aren’t suddenly going to break on you should the company go bust, or if you decide to reformat your computer. Quite nicely, they also promise everything will be XP and Vista compatible, something that can be a bit troublesome for older titles.

A few months ago I though this sounded quite snazzy, so signed myself up for the beta. Today I got access, so thought I’d give things a whirl. As a favour to their beta users, GOG are doing a buy one get one free offer on the first order, Sign-up was quick and easy, and didn’t seem to require too much in the way of information. Unfortunately it did decide to send my password and security question to my E-mail, a questionable security practise. I’ll E-mail them on this one.

I had a bit of trouble with establishing a secure connection, but that seemed to be due to OpenDNS. It seems to cause problems on secure sites if some of the page content is hosted at an invalid domain.

Payment allows visa or Mastercard only, which means those without a credit card are possibly out of luck. I’d try my debit card, but I’d prefer the added security of a credit card on an unfamiliar website. So can’t say if delta is also accepted. However they claim that they are adding more cards shortly, so I assume this limitation won’t last long.

On purchase of Sacrifice at the bargain price of $5.99 (About £3) the game was added to my account page for downloading when I saw fit. The account page also provides links to forums, articles and additional downloads.It also gives me the opportunity to rate the game and review it. The articles address technical issues with the game, such as the requirement to run the installer as administrator on Windows Vista.

The downloads for the game include the manual, reference card, desktops and avatars. The game itself downloads as a single exe, and the 562.6MB file is downloading hovered around 140kB/s-160kB/s, it looks like it will take about an hour.

While thats happening I’ll talk about the rest of the service. Much like Steam, GOG provides forums for all the games available on its service, as well as a General Discussion forum which currently contains mainly feedback and feature requests.

The website provides a nice console, listing games you own, providing download links as well as links to relevant support articles and forums. According to GOG purchased games will be available for download forever, which should sound like a no-brainier, but some download services fail to provide this. The website also encourages you to make backups to CD, something I’ll do as I don’t fancy re-downloading half a gig regularly.

Unlike something like Steam, the service doesn’t require any background tasks. This will please many people and hopefully means that games installs will be virtually identical to the CD versions, only without a CD requirement.

Interestingly the license covers any number of PCs/laptops in the same household. In practise of course many people will do this anyway, but its nice that they allow it implicitly.

Now onto the the most important aspect, the catalogue. GOG promises to add new releases each Tuesday, which should ensure a constant flow of games. Currently it just hosts titles from Codemasters’ and Interplay’s back catalogues. This includes among them classics such as Fallout 1 and 2, Sacrifice, Giants: Citizen Kabuto and MDK, all at $5.99. There are also a few $9.99 titles thrown into the mix. Currently they only have 34 titles listed, and a few of those are flagged as ‘coming soon.’ Notably key Interplay titles like Baldur’s gate aren’t present, I suppose Atari’s continued interest in the D&D license, or Bioware’s cavorting with EA, may be holding this one back. However the forums are full of requests so we’ll see what happens.

The developers currently seem to be fairly active on the forums, but this is may be just due to the beta period.

With the download done, we are on to installation. As suggested, I’ll install as administrator.

Hmm, bit of a slow start here, but its a huge file and the problem could be with Vista’s paranoid security. Still, we are in to a customised installer. Seems to be very easy to use, if you don’t want to charge the default installation directory it is installed and launched in three clicks.

Game works first time, and adds itself to the vista games manager, uhh, twice, once with a shiny icon, and another time with downloaded box art. The shiny icon has links to the manual etc, and the box-art icon appears to be the version Vista ads automatically. The game appears to be fully patched.

So overall the process was extraordinarily simple, and doesn’t have any unnecessary gubbins to get in the way. One downer is that they don’t provide an automatic update tool, but seeing as these games are pretty ancient I expect they are as patched as they are going to get.

Currently the selection is a touch limited, as are the payment options. However, it is still early days, and GOG already show intentions of addressing both these problems. I hope early sales will be sufficient to encourage other publishers to join the fray. The low prices means that I’ll certainly be using the service in future, to catch up on missed titles and to fill in gaps between modern releases. The benefit of not requiring the CD, of having everything patched up and easy to use, and having it all only a few clicks away, makes GOG an attractive alternative to scouring eBay and the pre-owned bins, and charity shops.

Good Old Games can be found at and is currently in beta phase.