A year into working life, I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone. These 6-month trainee seats seem to fly by and, we collectively discovered, it’s with some apprehension we suddenly find ourselves no longer first years and instead expected to help out the new crop. I’m moving into a litigation seat, a department that seems incredibly busy and is likely to cut down on my free time significantly. While I shall endeavour not to disappear entirely, at least you know why in advance…
To be honest I didn’t “get” Spotify at first. I thought it was trying to replace Last.fm but without its “scrobbling” feature which tracks the music you listen to and suggests others, as well as comparing your tastes with friends and letting you see what they’re listening to. Eventually I caved and gave it a whirl about a month ago. I swiftly realised that Spotify wasn’t competing (out of the box it supports Last.fm, scrobbling everything to which you listen) and has much loftier goals: nothing short of a paradigm shift within the music industry. In fact, quite how it got away with it remains a mystery to me. After downloading the client music player (which is simple, vaguely reminiscient of iTunes) you have access to a vast library of music for free. While there are still notable gaps at present, every single album recommended to me by someone in the past month has been on there. That’s quite something. For licensing reasons Spotify isn’t available in the US yet, but they are working on it. The service is ad-supported but a subscription fee of £9.99 per month will remove them. With an iPhone App just released for music on the go, this really could change how people acquire their music. I highly recommend everyone with the remotest interest in music signs up to both these services: I’ll probably start mentioning more albums now that linking to a Spotify playlist is as simple as providing a URL.
My bank holiday weekend has been equally split between having friends round the the flat each day and playing through Batman: Arkham Asylum. Eschewing the usual film release tie-in model, they have instead crafted a game that stands wonderfully in its own right, feeding off the entire comicbook back-catalogue. By setting the game in Arkham, they are able to wheel out any Batman villain they want, since virtually all were incarcerated on the island at some point. All its required mechanics work wonderfully — stealth, combat, gadgetry — and it looks stunning to boot. Mark Hamill turns in a deliciously gleeful performance as Joker that really pushes the game forward. Probably the year’s best game so far, you don’t even need to be a particular fan of Batman to enjoy it, and I recommend people pick it up before the inevitable “holiday season” crush of new titles begins.
Pete convinced me to join the office Fantasy Football league, which you may find a little odd given my total lack of sporting knowledge. On the other hand, approaching it less as football and more as statistical warfare, it starts to make more sense. Particularly since crafting and fine-tuning a roster was something I did for years as a teenager. One could argue there’s a fine line between Orcs and footballers in both appearance and temperance. If anything it might be easier for me since I have no vested interest in any of the players.
That said, I’m still a totally new to this game and it’s clear that there are some very proficient participants who have been doing it for years. Sadly I also joined in week two which puts me at a disadvantage from the start. Nevertheless, and despite a major upset that saw Manchester United beaten 1-0 by Burnley, my team has forged through wonderfully in its first week with 55 points, making it the 3rd most successful in the office for the week. Overall (since it’s based on totals), that still leaves me languishing toward the bottom of the table, though I’ve already leveled with Pete, much to his annoyance. If we can keep it up, however, the Smooth Operators could have a quick rise to the heady heights of mediocrity before long.
The main reason I joined has nothing to do with the competition, but rather that it gives me some reason to follow the sport. I was as surprised as anyone to find myself hurriedly checking last night’s results and gawping in shock at United’s defeat. Such research has the potential to become dangerously addictive…
Penny Arcade recently ran a 6-page series called Automata (starting with a one-page concept and then continuing), an alternate reality noir that fuses robots with 1920s speakeasy jazz. Yes. This brief window into a society with a robot underclass is alluring and I would love to see them explore it further. The full project was reinterpreted by one of their readers with subtle animation and a soundtrack. Well worth a look.
As many of you know, while I love to celebrate other people’s, I don’t make a particularly big deal about my own birthday. I’m sure it’s rooted in various things, but the bottom line is that while I don’t hide it, I certainly don’t broadcast it either. Yesterday, I realised, I was lucky enough to have a moment in which I spending my birthday exactly the way I like it, weird as it may sound: sipping a martini while listening to some great live Cuban music anonymously at someone else’s birthday party. That was the evening, in which I had accompanied my flatmate Anna to her ex-boyfriend’s birthday bash at Floridita, largely for moral support. Crowded (like anywhere in London) and stiflingly hot at the start, it’s otherwise a great Cuban-themed location with a restaurant/bar upstairs and a club downstairs for live music and dancing. The bar staff vary slightly, the first guy who served me being incredibly attentive (and asking all the right questions when I ordered a martini) while the second was generally too busy chatting.
The day was spent in an equally “me” way. My present to myself had been a 2002 Riesling I’d bought a few days before. The age (particularly for a white) gave it far more character, despite the fact it was a slightly sweet wine for my palette. Anna rated it as the best white wine she’s had. For those interested it was a 2002 Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Spätlese. Personally I think I prefer the delicious 2007 Weingut Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, of which I’ve just picked up another bottle. It’s amazing to note the quality increase when you spend just the same amount you would spend in bar on a bottle to drink at home instead. I cooked a thai green curry to suit the wine (clearly the right way round!) which we ate and watched swathes of How I Met Your Mother over the afternoon. So nothing too fancy, but a very enjoyable day.
Some great photographs of “Great British Views” submitted to the BBC showcasing the UK at its very best.
In the past few years collector’s edition releases of major videogames have become a popular way for publishers to convince hardcore fans to part with a little extra cash. An extra £5-10 for a fancy tin box, an artbook and an extra disc with behind-the-scenes development footage is a pretty easy sell. The cheap approach, often used to entice pre-orders, is free-to-produce in-game content like an extra outfit or gold guns (yes, that happened). This year, all that has changed as videogame publishers have decided to up the ante.
The price of a collector’s edition game has rocketed to around £60-70, which in a recessionary year may seem either ill-advised or a blatant attempt to bolter lacklustre mid-year sales by cashing in doubly over the always-busy Christmas period. But the contents are a world away from the old fancy box and book. Batman: Arkham Asylum includes a fullsize batarang (that’s 14” of vigilante justice, one supposes, in marketing speak) for the proud owner to display/fight crime. The “black edition” of Assassin’s Creed II contains an 8.5” statue of protagonist Ezio as well as the game’s soundtrack on CD (and I’ll be honest, I’m tempted by this one). But the crowning jewel of this year’s line-up is the £120 “prestige edition” of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which comes with fully working night vision goggles. Seriously. If next year’s Dragon Age: Origins doesn’t come with a real dragon egg, I suspect fans will feel cheated.
I’m a collector, I understand the mentality and, if we can find the right price-point for this stuff, it’s no bad thing. At least it’s real stuff we’re being offered. Unlike the new clothing and accessories for sale in Microsoft’s new Xbox Avatar Store. Paying a little to express oneself digitally is okay, but this stuff is all really advertising so I find the future plans to unlock related clothes through in-game achievements far more appealing. The problem again is pricing. 80 points (about 70p) for a t-shirt or a hat might be okay. But it shows that they know us far too well when they charge 400 points (about £3.50) for a virtual lightsabre, and it almost seems worth it.
There were a few films I ought to have included last time but did not. First up I’d like to urge people to see a beautifully real romantic film called Adam. Quirky but without cliché, what makes it stand out is that the titular Adam has Asperger syndrome. From the trailer I wasn’t entirely sure but it’s not treated in a 1-dimensional way either: his condition is intriguing, funny, tragic and ultimately handled in way that was factually realistic but also opens that world to a wider audience. Perhaps the best endorsement is that, leaving the cinema at the end, I spoke briefly to a member of audience who has Asperger’s and found its protrayal (and terminology, such as neuro-typicals) very accurate. The lack of Hollywood formula means it may not follow the route viewers expect, but the journey is a great, moving one.
Two other films worth a quick mention. French two-part thriller Mesrine centres on a strong performance from Vincent Cassel which implies its description as “the French Scarface” may be deserved. The split into two quite different parts is an interesting choice, the first focusing on the real-life violent criminal Jacques Mesrine‘s rise to fame, with the second, following a daring courtroom escape that leaves him public enemy number one, delving more into why he did it. The first part, Killer Instinct, is out now. In a totally different vein, the second film is the Spike Jonze adaptation of childhood favourite Where The Wild Things Are. If he can capture the feel of Sendak’s work (and the trailer bodes well) it could be an instant classic.
On a more general note, the last post generated a lot of interest from people so I will endeavour to produce those lists on a semi-regular basis if people find them interesting/useful.