Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Eye don't see what you did there

I've been going back and forth on if I should even do this but I've settled on the fact that I’d rather just tell people once, in depth, so I don't have to keep repeating myself. Also, it saves me from keeping people in the dark and having a situation where I've told some people but not others. This way I can tell everyone that I want to know in a way that's easiest for me.

For those that don't know, I was born with an eye disease that basically causes my retina's to degrade over time. Over time this disease could, and most probably will, cause a certain amount of blindness. When or how much is not certain and no doctor has been able to tell me. My vision is terrible in both eyes but my right eye is significantly worse than my left.

Recently things have gotten worse. Due to my condition, the “tears” in my retina have begun to swell and it's causing pressure inside my eye resulting in decreased vision. I'm facing surgery on both eyes with 50/50 odds that it will work. The plus sides to this surgery are increased visual fidelity in both eyes, the down sides are obviously decreased visual fidelity (or … scary word... blindness) along with the small risk of infection, bleeding and retinal detachment during the surgery. I don't have a set date for this surgery but at the moment it's looking like late January to early February.

In the mean time I've been given some pretty stiff medication to try which may or may not help. The medical data for a condition like mine (for both medication and surgical procedures) is limited because there just aren't very many cases like mine. This medication has some pretty harsh side effects which include nausea, numbness in fingers and toes and it can cause me to suffer from a potassium deficiency.

So those are the facts. If around the holidays (this is mainly applies to family members I guess) I’m not around or I’m not able to be myself you know why. Keeping a positive outlook is what most people say to me and I am trying but it gets increasingly more difficult when things just get this... scary. I'm sorry some of you found out about this before I could get round to tell you. It wasn't that I didn't want to tell you guys, I just didn't know how to do it easily. It's not exactly Christmas conversation haha.

To lighten things up a little here's a riddle:

What word is shorter when you add two letters to it?

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Grand Theft Auto Online Reveal

Launches October 1st

GTA V is set to drop in just over a month. However, today Rockstar Games revealed an ambitious online multiplayer suite to accompany one of the biggest GTA games ever made. It is important to note that GTA Online will be “delivered” on October 1st, access being free with every retail copy of the game.

"Grand Theft Auto Online is a dynamic and persistent online world for 16 players that begins by sharing gameplay features, geography and mechanics with Grand Theft Auto V, but will continue to expand and evolve after its launch with new content created by Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto community"

GTA Online sounds and looks like an MMO. The trailer opens up promising a living, persistent online world that dynamically changes and will be continually supported post launch by Rockstar. Throughout the short video we can see instances of new characters (with voiced dialogue) offering missions to be taken to earn currency.

Currency in GTA Online allows you to customise your created character, buying clothes and accessories as you would in a usual single player experience. Earn enough currency and you'll be able to buy property (with the ability to show it off to your friends) opening up the possibilities for co-op hideouts. Or, if you'd like, you can buy vehicles (cars, boats and aircraft) to customise and race.

What would you need a hideout for? Well, GTA Online's open world allows you to join up with friends to take on bank heists and armed robbery, with each of you working together to get away with the loot.

Not in the mood to rob a bank? Well you can compete with friends in the various side games GTA V boasts, including tennis and golf, or in classic online death match modes.

GTA Online also comes packed with a content creator allowing you to create custom races (setting a course in the huge world map) and death matches (altering the allowed map space and weapon/vehicle spawns).

It looks as if Rockstar has learned from their online offerings in GTA, Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption to create a refined and cohesive open world experience. GTA 4 allowed players to connect and take part in missions together in Liberty City. Red Dead Redemption blew open the doors and allowed players to interact and play in a huge open world cooperatively, competitively or both at the same time. Max Payne 3 introduced tight third person shooter controls and systems that were previously lacking in Rockstar games. GTA Online is the culmination of Rockstar's work this generation.

I just can't believe how robust it is considering the size of the single player portion of the game. Rockstar North President Leslie Benzies stressed that it's "a different entity, a separate thing, and it'll grow on its own. It'll be GTA Online; it's not part of GTA V. Obviously it's set in the GTA V engine, but it's going to grow and evolve into its own thing." 

GTA V releases on the 17th September 2013 here in Europe with, as noted above, GTA Online coming around two weeks later.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

5 Reasons why I didn't study Chemistry

As much as this blog is a place to show case some of my work and to write about the things that I might be watching or playing, I guess it can also be a place for some readers to get to know me. I'd rather my personality shine through my writing but from time to time a post like this can't hurt right? Right? Is it hurting you yet?

I'm not going to go for an obvious list of facts about me, if you follow me on Twitter you might see some fun facts from time to time (Fun Fact: There are fun facts in this post). Rather I wanted to keep things writing focused and maybe answer a question people often wonder when they get to know me or what I studied.

Maybe it's an Indian thing, but people often look at me with a weird quizzical look on their face when I tell them I studied English Language and Literature with Creative Writing. Today the shop keeper next door looked at me like I’d said the wrong subject and asked “are you sure it wasn't Chemistry?”

No, Mrs. Hayre, it wasn't Chemistry. I enjoyed Chemistry in school and before dropping out of college, it was one of my chosen A-Levels, but I never really loved it. I love writing and there's been a few influences in my life to bring that along. Here are a few of them:

#5: Goosebumps

In, I guess I want to say, 1994 my parents began to buy me Goosebumps books and they blew me away. I had been a casual reader before Goosebumps but once I got started on R.L Stine's mega series of horror stories I was hooked. I devoured these. I distinctly remember one week over the summer holidays where I convinced my mum to buy me three. I just ploughed through them. “Welcome to Dead House”, “Return of the Mummy”, “The Cuckoo Clock of Doom” and “Say Cheese and Die – Again!” were just some of the titles that defined my childhood. I remember one day when I was trapped on a coach going down to a wedding and at the services I convinced my dad to buy me a Goosebumps book. I destroyed “It Came From Beneath the Sink” in a matter of hours, before we'd even reached the venue. I was hungry for more, my imagination began to run wild.

(Fun Fact: When I was younger I wrote a short story where Jack the Ripper's brother stalked someone and was ultimately stabbed in a corner shop by the clerk. Maybe i'll post it one day)

#4: Max Payne

Along with reading, gaming was one of the key staples of my childhood. These started with games like Sonic and Alex the Kidd or Sensible Soccer and Sim City on my cousin's PC (when she let me on!). It wasn't I was introduced to Max Payne that I started to pay attention to the medium as a way to tell stories. The story in Max Payne is nothing to scream and shout about but the combination of interactivity and quality voice acting really pulled me in. Here was a bad ass character who was out for revenge, who narrated the entire game with a grisly film noire performance and could slow down time before the Matrix came out. I was in.

Max Payne really opened my eyes to the different forms of story telling and how powerful an emotional connection and interactivity were to a narrative experience.

(Fun Fact: As a child I wanted to be a wrestler when I grew up!)

#3: Wrestling

Wrestling was big in my family growing up. I was a Hulk-a-maniac and loved Macho Man. I moved on to Bret “The Hitman” Hart and then started chanting for Stone Cold Steve Austin. Yes, they have story lines in wrestling but it wasn't the cheesy plots that caught my eye.

Whatcha gonna do!?
It was more the match psychology and the art of wrestling itself. The more I paid attention to it the more I realised that the actual match had a story and it was told through mannerisms, moves and holds. Often they were typical under dog stories where the bad guy beats up the good guy before he ultimately comes back to win. But ever now and then there was something special. Like Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels in an Iron Man Match. The match went on for over an hour and the story they told was something that I had never seen before. Neither one wanted to give up and it was just compelling. Utterly compelling.

And yes, I know it's “fake”.

(Fun Fact: My favourite scent/smell is Vanilla)

#2: Ridley Scott

Being a big film nut, I watch my fair share of them. Ridley Scott is one particular director that I just have an affinity for. His work always enthrals me and captures my imagination. While I know he doesn't write the films himself, the way he cobbles them together never fails to inspire me.

It could be a simple shot of Russell Crowe riding into battle. Shot from a distance and static it would be bland and uninspiring but shot from a shaking steady cam, close up on his face and it becomes something else entirely. The amount of depth and reality he puts into his worlds just make me want to do this all the more. I want to do this for other people. I want to give other people an experience so tangible that they're lost for however long it is.

(Fun Fact: If I won the lottery I would make sure key members of my family and I were settled and secure. Then I would use the rest to make a school in an underprivileged area of the world so that children there could learn to read and write. Who knows they might write stories of their own)

#1: Lost

It's an odd one to put on the list but it's honestly the truth. Lost, the TV show, is one of the biggest components of why I decided to really start writing. Up until then I just had an interest in it. This show made me act on it. I can hear you saying it's just an underwhelming TV show but Lost is, I guess, special to me.

It came on during a period in my life where a lot was changing but no matter what went wrong or suddenly became different, I had Lost. Every week I would sit down to a new episode and some of the themes applied to me somewhat. Yes it had it's ups and downs but I became wholly invested in a set of characters and I was on the ride from start to finish. I loved every second of it.

Sawyer's mantra of “what's done is done (Freckles)” allowed me to move on from whatever it was that was getting me down and dragging me away from life. Normally I don't become so invested in a TV show. I enjoy many TV shows these days but I don't take life advice from Walter White (that you know of at least...).

It was just the perfect storm of personal problems and escapism really. Escapism is one of the big reasons why we consume any form of entertainment isn't it? I hope to do the same for someone else.

(Fun Fact: People often told me i'd never amount to anything)

So there you go, Mrs. Hayre. Now you know why. 

Hope you enjoyed it.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Pacific Rim Review

Go Big or Go Extinct

Go see this film. Stop reading and go. Now.

Pacific Rim is fun. It is entertaining and an absolute blast to see in the cinema. I would seriously recommend you see it in the cinema too. Even if you only have a passing interest in it, do not wait for the DVD or for it to come on Netflix, experience it on a huge screen with thundering speakers surrounding you because that is half the reason why Pacific Rim is so fun.

When a group of giant monsters, known as the Kaiju, begin to attack earth through an inter-dimensional rift, the Earth's nations band together to create a group of giant defensive robots known as Jaegers. However as the Jaeger program seems to be faltering against the insurmountable odds posed by the Kaiju, the last few Jaegers remaining on Earth are brought together for one last assault.

Ok. Go back and read that last paragraph again. Giant monsters. Giant Robots. This film is everything you could expect from just those two phrases alone. The scale of the action sequences is mind blowing, the choreography of the fight sequences defy you not to smile as the stakes just get higher and higher with each ear rumbling punch thrown.

Surprisingly, it isn't all just dumb fighting on a gigantic scale. Guillermo del Toro manages to create quite a smart, all be it basic, futuristic world with well thought out incidental details (for example slums that spring up against the remains of the Kaiju bones). The neural bridge that is used to connect the two pilots simultaneously controlling a Jaeger proves to be a surprising touching element. The thought of sharing someone’s memories and being in their head is quite the romantic notion.

The most note worthy element to this film has got to be the art direction. A lot of work must have gone into creating the design of the Jaegers (each one looks different) and the look of each Kaiju (who look completely different from one and other). They look authentic (as authentic as something like that could look!) and seem to be based on years of evolution, as each one is adapted to its mission and surroundings.

Pacific Rim won't win any awards for Best Actor. It's screenplay won't be remembered as a great work of art, revered in Universities in the future. Pacific Rim sets out to entertain you and it thoroughly does so from start to finish. If you have a passing interest in Sci Fi, robots, monster movies, action, cinematic experiences or just plain having fun go see this film.

As I said before. Go see it!


Monday, 22 July 2013

The Last of Us

Please note, there are no spoilers in this review.

On Playstation 3

The Last of Us represents the end of an era in many ways. It is one of the last big titles on the Playstation 3, it represents the culmination to a body of work from developer Naughty Dog and it embodies a high point to a particular style of game we've seen many, many times this generation.

Throughout the last ten years we have seen more and more big budget titles, with blockbuster presentation values and grandiose stories. Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, Bioshock and Uncharted are just a few that come to mind. The Last of Us is the climax to that particular ideology and design philosophy. It is by far the best amongst them.

One of the main talking points about The Last of Us is it's story. Set in a post apocalyptic world destroyed by a cordyceps virus (a spore fungus that infects the brain and triggers mutation), The Last of Us follows the journey and relationship of Joel and Ellie. Without giving any details away, the narrative is gripping, it is tense, it is emotional and it asks many questions. Key among those: how far would you go for the last of yours? There are many variants of the “us” within the game. Separate factions and groups, all who answer that very question in different ways. Whether that answer may help our protagonists on their journey or not. More often than not that answer is also incredibly violent and morally grey.

Joel and Ellie are wonderfully realised in a manner that is not commonly found in video games. Both feel real, their relationship feels real and the ups and downs within that relationship feel real. The performance, through voice work and motion capture, made me care immensely. Both go on an emotional journey, both have flaws and are paradoxical, and together they make you emotionally invest in their story.

Their story is really the highlight here. Gameplay, while serviceable, is nothing to rant and rave about and this has become a common theme throughout this particular style of game. The Last of Us shares the same flaws as Bioshock Infinite, Max Payne 3 and many others. There is a disconnect between the gameplay and narrative – however unlike previous titles, The Last of Us takes significant steps to reduce the dissonance. Resources are scarce and scavenging becomes both a game play mechanic and narrative element. The gameplay doesn't award points for stealth or action, both are what they are and either choice isn't celebrated or punished. This is a fact of the world The Last of Us is set in.

It is a violent world and violence is just tolerated, it is a fact of life. The slow movement and “tanky” controls help to convey the underlying tension that runs throughout the narrative as every gun fight becomes a game of resource management and self preservation – exactly how it would in a barren wasteland world.

My biggest gripe with the gameplay is the fact that when you are in control, Ellie cannot be detected by enemies. It rarely plays a factor but when it does become obvious that she is essentially invisible to them, it does take you out of the moment a little. Here is a story based on survival, survival of this couple and yet her safety is not a factor when you are in control.

This is where improvement needs to be made. Talking about character and narrative is fine but form and craft has to be taken into account. A perfect delivery of dialogue is both performance from the actor and the crafting of a director. In this instance the craft needed to be of a higher standard to keep in line with the high quality narrative. Treating the narrative and gameplay as two separate entities is a flaw of the particular design philosophy and ideology The Last of Us exploits to it's advantage and, at times, disadvantage.

Regardless of the gameplay slip ups, The Last of Us is still a fantastic game. It is the best game on Playstation 3 because it tells a story with conviction, with passion and heart. The big moments are not huge explosions or fight scenes but quiet, tender moments in a car, with two characters conversing. The key moments are not the blaring gun fire but the eerie guitar strum and a lingering camera shot across the desolate landscape. It steps away from conventional “press X to be hero and O to be villain” and presents an unflinching and uncompromising ending that many may not see coming.

The Last of Us represents, to me, the very reason why I dream to get involved in such an industry. To be able to lose yourself in such a lovingly crafted world is the best form of escapism, it has been true for the longest time with novels and stories. It is the same with this.


Saturday, 13 July 2013

Brave New Expansion

Civilization V – Brave New World

Available on PC. Requires Civilization V to play.

If you follow me on Twitter or know me personally you may have known that over the last few days I’ve been lost in the world of Civilization. I've managed to, wilfully, spend hours upon hours on this iconic franchise. You can't help but think... just... one... more... turn. You really can't!

Civilization V, when released a few years ago, was met with mixed reactions. Many called it's predecessor, Civilization IV, a better game and up until the recent expansion I would have agreed. Brave New World manages to elevate Civilization V to heights beyond the games that came before with the introduction of Tourism, World Congress, Archaeology, several new civilizations to choose from, enhanced trading, revamped social policy trees and the introduction of an ideology tree.

These new features, combined with features introduced in the first expansion Gods and Kings (FYI – the Faith and Espionage systems introduced in Gods and Kings come with Brave New World – the additional Civilizations from this expansion, however, do not), help shape every section of a typical play through into something engaging, dynamic and devilishly captivating.

Before this expansion, I often found late game to be about the acquisition of whichever currency lead to your desired victory. Science, Culture, Gold or Units for military dominance. Gods and Kings introduced Faith to make the early game a little more dynamic with the ability to slightly enhance and buff your civilization to tailor your needs. The espionage mechanic allowed for trickery and spying, stealing peoples technology or setting civilizations against each other which made the mid-game more intriguing. Brave New World seeks to make the end game a lot of interesting and one of the key mechanics to do so is the World Congress.

Once the Industrial Era has been reached by a majority of the Civs in the game, the first Civ to have encountered every other player in the game earlier becomes the host nation for World Congress. This congress can vote on various policies and rules that change the rule set of the game going forward. Congress can vote to embargo certain players or civilizations. They can outlaw certain luxury resources (say Ivory or Sugar) deeming them immoral and worthless. Congress can impose larger restrictions like a World Religion with the Civilization that founded said religion gaining huge benefits or eventually meeting to elect a World Leader. Being elected World Leader is a key stage in attaining a diplomatic victory and the pursuit of such a victory creates for fantastic political intrigue, backstabbing and drama.

In a recent game, as the USA, I put all my focus into controlling the political stage. I did this through my economy. With the wealth I was able to amass I was able to buy tiles with the resources I would later need for trade, I was able to buy the influence of the City States within the game granting me their votes at Congress and I was able to keep certain opposing players in check with bribes of gold. Everything was going swimmingly. I was able to wrest control of World Congress and name myself the Host Nation with a majority vote. I was on track to becoming World Leader and winning the game. Twenty Five turns to turns to victory. The United Nations was about to convene for the Fourth Congress of Washington and then war broke out. A massive global war, lead by the treacherous Spanish who had been my allies for the entire game. The rest of my opponents declared war against me and my City State allies. They even went as far as to invade and capture the City States I was using to vote for me. They invaded every city I owned and pillaged my network of trading posts and factories.

I came so close. As frustrating as it was, I would have done the same if another player was close to becoming World Leader. I should have dealt with some of them earlier and this really is the beautiful thing about Civilization V. The constant feeling of “I can do better!” and the ability to tell your own sweeping stories that span the entire globe and through era upon era of time. There are no story lines, there are no cut scenes. This is a game about exploration of mechanics which provides you with the beautiful ability to create a story around your play time – like I just did above.

This inherent history is taken advantage of through the games Archaeology system. At the very start of the game, as you set the founding blocks of your first city, barbarian camps and ancient ruins frequently spawn. As you clear these camps and ruins to protect your new nation or to make room the game keeps note of what battle took place where. When Archaeology is discovered thousands of years later, those same camps and ruins return as dig sites where you can discover great works of art and ancient artifacts to increase your Tourism rating.

Tourism is another new addition to the game and the best way I can describe its use is by referring to Tourism as an offensive statistic and Culture as a defensive statistic. Tourism is how appealing you are to other nations and Culture is a currency that you can spend to further augment your overall persona. Some are happy to follow your ways of life, others not so much. Manage to be the most influential Civilization and you'll win. The buildings that you produce in your cities also come with Great Work “slots”. These slots are filled by the artifacts and great works produced by your Civilization, or through trade, increasing your Tourism. Additionally, these buildings can be themed and if you manage to match the theme for a specific building (for example, great works of art from the same time period and civilization) it increases that bonus even further. This create quite an addictive little mini game as you barter with your enemies or allies for certain pieces of art from a certain age, or scour the world for dig sites before you opponents can snap them up.

Nothing is perfect though and sometimes the AI can really be rather dumb. A few times AI controlled players have been utterly unreasonable about trade. Demanding obscene amounts of resources or heavily stacking trades in their favour. Sometimes decades of peace can lead to political strife for no apparent reason. Their voting can sometimes be questionable at the World Congress table, with smaller Nations just “going with the flow” rather than banding together to make a more viable difference.

Still, these minor quirks a side, the additions brought on by Brave New World manage to create a game that will grab a hold of you and only let go when you are crawling away suffering from starvation and fatigue. All with a smile on your face about the deal you made for Sugar with Portugal that one time in the 1300's

Still not convinced I hear you say?!

It seems like a difficult game to get into?

Well how would you like to try out Civilization IV? Because I have not one but TWO free copies to give away on Steam!

All you need to do is share/retweet the relevant link that brought you here and leave me a comment telling me something funny! (This part is optional but it might increase your chances of winning! :P). I'll randomly pick two lucky winners on Friday 19th July 2013. Obviously, you need some form of a Steam account and a PC to play the game.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Inner Fire

It may not be a huge thing to some people. I know a lot of people are able to say the same thing however this is huge to me. I'm graduating!

I'm not going to sit here and rave about the degree or my marks or anything like that. It's done and i'm very proud to have a degree in English Language and Literature with Creative Writing. What I do want to say is this:

Thank you to my family. Especially those who have stuck around for the last decade while things didn't always go the way I wanted them to do. I'm not going to go into minute detail here however over the last ten years my life was beset by set backs, family tragedies, health issues and a general sense of negativity. It's no secret that some of the members of my extended family don't keep in contact and I'm not angry at them, not any more. I'm thankful for the impact they've had on my life. They too have helped shaped me to become the person I am today.

Thanks to the friends that have been around, those of you that have come and gone over the years. Even though at times I never wanted to see that you guys were around, you were. In person, over the phone or over the interwebs you guys were around and you kept me going when I didn't want to go any more. Some of you i've only just met at University, students and staff alike, and you have become my closest friends. I hope to keep in touch and continue the wonderful relationships I have with you people.

Lastly, and this really is the main reason why i'm writing such a post, is to send a message to anyone out there who might be reading – whether I know you or not. There were times when I didn't want to wake up in the morning, when I hoped I wouldn't. There were times when things got so bad or I lost some really important people that I didn't know where I'd find the strength to make it another day. There were times when I was physically unable to do what I wanted or what I had looked forward to. These times got me down. These times informed most of my day to day life. These times cost me relationships and opportunities.

Not any more. It takes a moment and that moment may come in some way you may not expect. For me it was a realisation that I was not living up to the advice that one of my closest cousins gave to me – someone who I miss very, very much to this day. That realisation lit a fire under me that still burns to this day. Until then I had lost hope.

You might be down. You might almost be out. There may be people around you telling you pick yourself up, to do this or that. There may even be people around you that are keeping you down. Everything you knew about your life my change, fall apart and crumble. Don't lose hope. Change will come but you have to find it within yourself to grasp that momentum, to take that helping hand and to move yourself forward in a positive manner. Self conviction and belief are the two key things you need. I believe you can do it but it doesn't matter what I believe, it's up to you.

Normally I wouldn't really take it upon myself to write a post like this. I like to talk to people and help them out as best I can but doing it in this way just isn't me. However it wasn't until a friend of mine, who i've really only just got to know and I regret I never made the effort to do so earlier, told me that she smiled at my dumb tweets filled with bits of positivity. That really made me think. I didn't know I was having that affect on people. Maybe I can make someone else smile with this, maybe I can give them that little bit of hope.

Some of you may think this is directly aimed at you. I can honestly say that i've not had anyone particular in mind when I wrote this but if you feel that way then take it as such. I am talking to you. Yes, you. You can do it. I did.