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The Life of P

Tag: penny arcade

Sequelphobia

Bioshock was a videogame – I think we can all agree on that much. It was also a vast idea. Do ideas have sequels? I guess they sort of do. A corollary is a kind of idea-sequel, right? Or is a corollary more like downloadable content? I shouldn’t have led with something like this, maybe.

-Tycho, Penny Arcade

I was overtly biased against a sequel that took one of 2007’s finest games and handed the franchise over to another developer. My take now (without having played it, mind) is that the review scores are impressive, hailing it as an accomplished action game that polishes all the bits of the first game that I didn’t really care about. The awe of exploring Rapture, in all its art deco Ayn Rand-inspired glory, was a unique experience that you can’t really replicate by placing the player in the same environment but a bigger suit. Even if the combat works better.

On the other hand, if I’d read more about Mass Effect 2 before playing it, I’d have believed Bioware ruined an excellent RPG by removing the customisation depth and turning it into a straightforward action shooter. They haven’t. What they have done is carefully distilled their experimental hybrid into its purest essence. It’s exquisite. If you require more words, it’s one of the few games I think about solely in terms of its characters rather than its mechanics, which become almost invisible as you explore more of this vastly detailed universe which tears through the boundaries of previous “choice and consequence” simulations. If someone survived when I played the first game, I can converse and work with them. If they didn’t, I can’t. Because they’re still dead. Working out the permutations for the third instalment must be a terrifying prospect, but one whose benefits I cannot wait to reap.

Earlier this week Microsoft unveiled another sequel of sorts: the cumbersomely titled but rebuilt from the ground up Windows Phone 7 Series, replacing Windows Mobile. It’s not about to win over the iPhone crowd because, let’s face it, their attention is unflinchingly fixed in one direction. To be honest I’d be surprised if it wins over me because I’ve been stung too many times by beautiful bits of hardware that were crippled by the sluggish Windows Mobile OS. But for now I just want to talk interfaces.

At first it just seemed bland. The “chromeless” interface means no menu backgrounds, no reflective icons or dropped shadows (and apparently no carrier customisations either). It’s surprisingly different to current designs, taking its cues from the Zune rather than any existing smartphone OS. After a minute the focus on simplicity and clear typography is not only refreshing but rather beautiful, elegantly sliding between screens. Who would have thought Microsoft would be the minimalist ones? I remain wary until I play with one, but I think it will be all too easy to write this off as bland rather than bold: if that was your first impression, I’d urge you still to give them a whirl when devices arrive at the end of the year. I will be, even if I’m not holding my breath.

All this is a long way of saying that I should probably set my prejudice aside and try out Bioshock 2, remaining silent on it until I do so.

Speculative Soccer

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.

The Professional Line

O2 Arena

Last night I saw The Pet Shop Boys at the O2 Arena, courtesy of Philips, who have an excellent centrally-located box. Not only was it my first time at the O2 (other than in its criminally expensive former guise as the Millennium Dome), but actually my first arena gig. This has been largely through choice, since I prefer live music in smaller venues for the more intimate atmosphere and proximity to the musicians. Even seeing major artists like Iron Maiden, I’ve been lucky enough to catch them in venues like the Brixton Academy rather than the arenas in which they tend to perform. The sheer scale is impressive, it must be said, particularly looking down on the sea of people filling the bowl beneath the box. However as a musical experience I found there was something detached and slightly soulless about it — at times it felt more akin to watching a DVD recording of a live performance than seeing it live oneself.

My main issue, however, concerned the O2’s clearly moronic policy on cameras. They have chosen to ban “professional cameras” which seems reasonable at first, except that they blanketly class anything larger than a compact camera to be “professional”. My entry-level dSLR clearly is not and, in fact, I imagine most professionals would be insulted by the suggestion. Yet because of this policy my camera was confiscated on entry and returned afterwards, so I have no photos other than of the outside. It wasn’t a safety issue due to its size, since I wasn’t in the crowd but up in a box. And there is no blanket ban on cameras either. So apparently taking pictures is okay, but any danger of taking good pictures must be quashed even if there is nothing commercial about it. Chatting to the polite but unhelpful security employees at the venue, they could not justify it either. This asinine approach is probably enough for me to blacklist the venue altogether.

Next post I’ll cover last week’s trips up to Cambridge, once I have some photos to illustrate it. Meanwhile, other bits and pieces:

  • PvP comic provides an interesting alternative view on Ghostbusters.
  • A beautiful, brilliant black-and-white advert for the Finnish Ilta Sanomat that imagines an alternate 1930s where the web and newspaper coexist.
  • Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service) covers Avril Lavigne’s Complicated. I recommend it largely for his swift dissection of the song afterwards, “I really don’t understand what’s so complicated about the whole situation… it’s just this guy, and he doesn’t like her very much.”
  • It’s now old news but Hulu, the on demand online streaming TV service, is due to launch in the UK in September with around 3,000 hours of US content.
  • Penny Arcade have been trying out some new styles for a future story, the robotic noir Automata being my personal favourite. They also offer a compelling argument for buying Prototype.
  • Shreena recently blogged about the practicalities of green living, mentioning two items of note: Ecover cleaning products as an alternative to bleach and the Eco Kettle.

"Luck is the residue of design."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2021 Priyan Meewella

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