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.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

SimCity... or should that be Sin City?


Several sections of text in the post open videos and news sites to support what i'm saying.

The short of this whole post is avoid SimCity. Seriously.

SimCity is a well regarded franchise with many PC owners having at least dabbled in the city building simulation at some point. There are a lot of people out there who fondly remember a disaster ravaging their perfectly laid out metropolis which made the anticipation for the newest instalment huge.

Anticipation which unfortunately has been met with a game that is crippled at it's earliest design choices and execution. To get the good out of the way first, SimCity is a good idea. In fact there are a few good ideas present in the latest version of SimCity. More so than previous games, the latest SimCity puts an emphasis on city specialisation and region interactivity. Two ideas which are fantastic. City specialisation lets you focus on a specific path.

Your city can focus on tourism and attract sims from across the region, driving up revenue for commercial businesses in your town and providing a pay check for the city when events are profitable (e.g a sports game at your stadium!). If you pick a plot of land with natural resources hidden underneath, your city can grow wealthy exploiting that resource. Set up a number of oil drilling or coal mining plants accompanied by a trade post and watch the money roll in. Alternatively, you can keep the raw resources and manufacturer finer goods, metals and petrol to sell at a higher price or use in your region. There is a distinct shift towards micromanagement. Before where you might plop a police station every three streets, now you might be best served upgrading the one police station you have. Most key buildings in SimCity allow you to upgrade, providing additional features or unlocking more specialisation options.

Region interactivity is another plus point. In previous SimCity games you could connect to faceless cities that bordered your town and exchange power, water or sewage for an arbitrary amount of cash. Now your cities (or those of your friends) can trade power, garbage disposal facilities, water etc. with each other too. It creates an asynchronous multiplayer which allows people to work together to provide the sims of the region with everything they need. One person could specialise in education and the sims will travel from the industrial city they live in to educate themselves. Or at least they should... in theory.

It's difficult to pin point why certain features of SimCity just don't work. On one hand it could be the overloaded servers which you are required to log into just to play, even if you want to play on your own (more on this later). Or it could be odd AI bugs that really hinder the experience.

There have been countless reports of the A.I and simulation in SimCity being somewhat broken. The Sims will take the shortest route to their destination, even if it isn't the quickest. They won't cross the road to use a bus stop, opting to drive instead. This could lead to everyone piling into small side avenues where main thoroughfares and avenues remain wide open. Your mass transit systems could just choose to ignore a turning or split in their route and ignore entire sections of the city that are “covered”, in theory, by bus routes. I had a group of low wealth sims complaining that they had no where to shop or work. But at the same time I had a group of low wealth shops complaining that they had no shoppers or workers. How???

The sims and advisors in the game will constantly seek expansion, which is understandable in the first few hours of city building but infuriating when you have completely filled the incredibly small map size provided. When you have no room to build anything (in the entire region), having the game harp on at you about “more workers” is really, really annoying.

The region interactivity just doesn't seem to work like it's supposed to either. There is a delay between interactions. For example I could volunteer up some of my police service to the next town but that won't kick in straight away, leaving my sims in the undefended town unhappy and unprotected until the game decided to catch up. I had built a huge university with lots of room and services to cover the entire region yet the sims on my adjacent towns complained of no education and flat out refused to go to the four schools, two high schools, college and university I had built just one town over. Now this could be because of the server issues EA and Maxis have been having with the launch of the game.

And thus we come to quite possibly the most prominent issue in the game. Online connectivity. You must log into their servers to be able to play the game at all. The launch of an online only game is always troublesome. SimCity had major issues, especially for North American users who had hours upon hours of down time. I, personally, have had a hand full of problems but nothing to the extent of what other players have been suffering. I've failed to connect on two occasions and I've had delayed response from the server when playing at times (region interactions, claiming city locations). In an effort to reduce the server load, Maxis temporarily removed features from the game. One of the key features being the ability to speed up time to Cheetah speed. The removal of this feature means … a lot of waiting around until you can get the money you need.

However, interestingly, a recent report on Rock, Paper, Shotgun shed light on the idea that this online DRM isn't required for the game. EA and Maxis have gone on the record stating that the online connection is a requirement for the game to run because some of the calculations are done server side. The RPS report states (from a source within Maxis) that this is not true. In fact players have reported being able to play for extended periods of time while connection to the server has been lost without being removed from the game. How is this possible if the online connection to the server is that critical? Could the online DRM just be a requirement to curb piracy and provide the platform to drip feed their players new content as microtransations (there are already items on the in game store ready to buy!)? This is a sign of a growing shift within the gaming industry from games as a product to games as a service.

It is unfortunate that such a beloved franchise has been hampered with design flaws and poor execution. Cities are small because they want to promote region play. However region play doesn't work all that great and the cities are so small that there's only so much you can do. Draconian online DRM limits when and how you can play the game, seemingly unnecessarily. Wonky A.I serve to frustrate and make the experience a chore sometimes.

There are some shining ideas underneath the rubble. Here's hoping things change and that E.A crawl off into a corner and die, i'd gladly pay extra for that to happened if it appeared in the in game store.

UPDATE: Following the news posted by Rock, Paper, Shotgun it seems that a modder has found a away to disable to artificial online requirement and play offline indefinitely. Online features such as region tools and save/load games obviously don't work correctly. Your cities are, however, saved onto their servers once you reconnect back to the online service. The UK Modder also stated that it is possible to edit the highways covering the region anywhere, even outside of the boundaries provided by Maxis and E.A. On top of this "bigmaps" were apparently referenced several times in the games code indicating that larger plots could be an additional microtransaction DLC in the future.

A Reddit post outlines all the recent discoveries made by the community. These include an inflation of the population, the ability for offline saves and the inclusion of terraforming tools (a feature removed from the newest edition of SimCity).

This is getting interesting.


Sunday, 3 February 2013


Apologies for the delay. I've been struggling with a mountain of University work that doesn't seem to be getting any smaller. I wrote this story a few years ago for a first year assignment. There is actually a script version that I adapted for a second assignment on the blog. I decided to go back and edit the short story version to include some elements that I thought up after and generally polish the dialogue and pacing.

I'm attempting to create a small collection of short stories that take place at the same time in Huddersfield. These will serve to introduce characters which I hope to use in a larger project that i'm working on. 

So here's the first one. Any comments or advice is always appreciated. Enjoy! 



You find yourself alone with microwave meals that taste like warm shit in water. The only light in your life coming from the television that you leave on at night. BBC News channel presenters your only bedfellows. Life has a way of playing with you though. It has a way of shaking you awake just when you think it'll let you fall asleep and never wake up. It has a way of complicating things.

Red covered the ground, hair and blood flared out along the dark concrete like a sick piece of modern art. It was the last fare of the night. How did it come to this?

Dispatch mumbled something over the radio as the rear passenger door opened. The rush of cold air slapped me from my stupor. I yawned as I cleared the metre from the previous fare and started the taxi up.
‘Wher’ya going love?’ I asked looking back through the rear view mirror. My passenger stared out of the window for a moment before answering: ‘Westridge Drive. Beaumont Park’. It was going to take a while to get to Beaumont Park from this side of Kirkburton but luckily the roads were empty at this time of night. I don't often make it my business to think about the passengers other than if they're going to pay or cause trouble. She was young, she looked a mess and it was late. We've had our fair share of drug addicts causing trouble, especially recently, something about a new product being available. I don't really know. Her eyes were locked to the pavement as it rolled by and her hands were tucked underneath a brown leather bag. One of the buckles was dangling off. She better not try to bolt. I was on the home stretch for this shift, I didn't need trouble, and yet I couldn't help myself. I tempted fate.
‘Everything alright love?’
Nothing. Not a flinch. I don't even know if she heard me. She just stared out of the window, her eyes dead and bloodshot. I noticed some dried blood on her lip.
'Bang your lip on something or?'
‘Just drive the fucking taxi.’
‘I wa' just asking love, I didn’t mean to-’
‘Sure you didn’t...’
‘I was just concerned.’
‘Who the fuck are you? My dad? Just drive.' I would have left it there. I didn't need to know or get involved.
'You're about as useful as he was by the looks of things.'
She pushed it too far. I wasn't going to stand for this. What the hell was her problem? She could walk.
'Bollocks to this,' I mumbled to myself as I pulled over to the pavement. I killed the engine leaving a prickly silence momentarily. 'Get out, call another taxi.'
I looked back. She hadn’t moved an inch. ‘Did you hear me, Red? Get out.’ She shook her head and leant back, looking up to the roof of the car. I noticed marks around her neck.
‘I’m sorry… I just need to get to-’
‘There’s no charge, call someone else. Get out.’
‘Please don’t do this to me, not now.’
‘Don’t do what? Look, you wa' rude. I tried doing the decent thing and now I just want you out of my taxi.’
She pulled a gun out of the bag and shoved it into my face. My body froze immediately. I couldn’t seem to breathe.
‘Just take me to Beaumont Park. Now.’
I started the car back up. The metal pressing into the back of my head ran to my feet pushing the pedals down that little bit harder. I looked back at her. She was illuminated briefly as we passed the twenty four hour Co-op, and her eyes shone brightly before being plunged back into darkness.
‘I- I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have a choice,’ she stammered.
I tempted fate and fate spat in my face. She came in smelling of roses and looking like hell. I couldn't help myself. Idiot.
‘Stick up taxi drivers often?’
‘Please. Just drive the Taxi.’
‘Look you’ve got a gun pointed to the back of my head; I think we’re beyond being driver and passenger. So… why don’t you tell me why you’re threatening to kill me just to get to Beaumont Park?’
I changed gear and as I brought my hand back up to the steering wheel I knocked the receiver to dispatch onto my knee. I held down the button between my legs. The red light lit up on the transponder. It was brighter than I realised but maybe she wouldn't notice.
‘Well? I deserve to know… why you’ve got a g-’
‘Stop talking.’ I heard the gun click behind me, she slowly leaned forward and yanked the wire out of the receiver. The red light flickered off. ‘Nice try,’ she muttered as she leaned back into the seat behind me.
‘Why couldn’t you just keep your mouth shut and drive? You just had to talk and complicate things.’
'I have a habit of making things difficult.'

For a while we sat in a nervous silence. I slowed down to thirty miles per hour, I’m not even sure why I was prolonging the journey. We were just passing The Waterloo Pub when she began to violently cough.
‘Y’alright back there Red?’ I asked as I started to pull over again.
‘Keep… driving,' she choked. The gun lowered as she began to cough even harder, gasping for breath.
‘Just what the hell is going on here?’
The coughing slowed down. Her eyes watered as she desperately took huge gulps of air.
'It's got nothing to do with you!'
‘Really? You've taken me bloody hostage, it's got a lot to do with me now love.’
'I swear I’ll fucking shoot you if you don't shut your mouth!'
‘Bet you don't even know how to use the bloody thing.’
Shut up, idiot. Shut up! I never did know when to keep my mouth shut.
She leaned forward and pointed the gun towards the passenger side window and fired. The force of the gun shot felt like someone had punched me in the ear. The window shattered. Glass flew in every direction. I closed my eyes and hoped she wouldn't shoot me. The realisation that I was still driving felt like a jolt of electricity. My eyes flew open and I glimpsed a man staggering into the road. He didn't even seem to notice me as I swerved and kept the car under control.
‘What the fuck are you doing?!’
‘Drive! Or the next one goes through your big fucking mouth!’
I slammed my fist into the steering wheel. Partly out of frustration and partly because she was right.
Shards of glass continued to fall off the door frame as we made our way into town. Things had calmed down a little. We were passing Ravensknowle Park when I reached into the glove compartment. She leaned forward.
‘Relax Red,’ I pulled out a box of cigarettes and slid one into my mouth. ‘You smoke?’ I reached to the back with the box of twenty in my hand.
‘There's a no smoking sign on your dashboard.’
‘You remind me of my ex-wife.'
She smirked. I threw the box into the passenger seat. As it landed tiny shards of glass bounced up. If I didn't end up dead, Timmy was going to kill me for this. I glanced back through the rear view mirror. Red was still smirking. She shook her head in amazement.
‘What you don't think an old mug like me could be married?
‘No I’m just amazed you still want to talk.'
‘I got married. If that ain't a sign that I’m a glutton for punishment I dunno what is.'
'Yep. As in no longer married.'
'I know what ex-wife implies, dip shit.'
'So what happened?'
She looked intrigued. The gun had lowered a little. If she was to fire now, she'd probably miss the back of my head and hit the roof. Progress.
'Well... Carl happened.'
'Oh, and who might Carl be?'
'Some big bollock executive. He was in the office with the leather chair in a suit. I was in here in a leather jacket. Didn't really compare. Weak chin though. He hit like a girl. She always said I needed something to fix. I was quite the handy man, you see. Only thing I couldn't fix was me bloody marriage.'
'You fought him?' The grin got bigger, pearly whites peered through.
‘At their wedding, yeah. They were being married in front of this lake. Helped him cool off.’
She laughed and reached over to the front seat for a cigarette and the lighter. She looked so much nicer with a smile on her face. Why did I even think that?
‘Sorry love, no smoking.’
'What's your name love?'
She hesitated for a moment. The end of her cigarette lit up as she took a drag and exhaled. 'I like Red,' she said smirking.
‘Got a son somewhere too. They moved away after the wedding. America. Not seen him since. Probably couldn't recognise him if he was sat where you are. That''s what anger does to ya. Makes things worse.'
‘Nothing can make things any worse than they already are.’
'Things always get worse. That gun you're holdin' in yer hand will see to that.'
'I don't have a choice.'
The progress I had made seemed to evaporate. The smile slid of her face and her steely eyes refocused. I felt the barrel of the gun poke me in the back of the head again. I shifted gear.
'You a film fan?'
'Movies, films. You watch em? Well, my favourite is Leon.'
'Yeah. It's got that English geezer in it. What's his face? Gary Oldman.'
'I've seen it. Is that what you think is going on here?'
'Well.... I don't think anything. I mean the US version they're just friends. But I watched them deleted scenes and commentaries and stuff, fucking brilliant. Anyway, in that they said they had to delete the scenes from the European version which had Mathilda fall in love with Leon. I mean, we can just be friends, like. I'm not-'
'I'm just tryin' ta understand Red.'
'This isn't something you can fix.'
The cough returned. She doubled over clutching her stomach, her guts practically forcing their way out of her mouth. Her whole body shook as she wretched and spluttered. I pulled over to the pavement and she scrambled out of the car. This is your chance. Do it, push down on the sticky clutch, slip it in first and just drive away. You've tried to help, call the police. I reached over to the glove compartment and pulled out my phone. Outside I heard Red wretch and throw up, the smacking of hot liquid landing on the tarmac. I'd heard it a thousand times and never cared... why was this time any different? I cut the engine and got out of the car. More fool me.
Red was leaning against the back of the taxi. Vomit trickled down the hub cap and onto the tire. It was splattered on the black pavement. Streaks of dark red flared out like flames against the night sky.
'Do you want some water or something Red?'
She looked up, her eyes were watering and blood was trickling down her chin. The gun was shaking in her hand. She shook her head and averted her eyes, hugging her stomach as she leant against the boot and took a deep breath in.
'You're coughing up blood.'
'Why didn't you drive away?'
'Like I said, the whole passenger driver thing went out the window a long time a go.'
She looked away, a scowl on her face, her bottom lip quivering. She shook her head and rounded on me.
'Why do you care so much? What do you want?'
'I just...' Go on. Tell her. Tell her that she's been the only interesting thing to happen in your life for the last ten years. Tell her how much you want to save her.
'You really want to know why I need to get to Beaumont Park with this?' she shoved the gun back in my face. I nodded my head like an idiot, trying to cower away from the business end of the barrel. She pressed it hard against my forehead.
'I'm going to kill the man that took my son from me.'
I looked at the gun, down her arm which was covered in cuts and bruises to her neck which was covered in angry red strangle marks to, finally, her fierce eyes which were bloodshot from the tears and god knows what else. I began to count the freckles on her nose and cheeks as she continued.
'Yeah. I'm going to shoot that fucking pervert for what he's done to me.'
'There are other ways, Red. The authorities or a... lawyer or something right?'
'Oh yeah. Go in there all “woe is me, my step dad Wayne plied me with drugs and raped me. Woe is me, I was so addicted and alone, at the age of twenty fucking three, that I kept going back for more only to get beaten near half to death when he found out I was pregnant.”'
'I didn't-'
'This is the only way. Alright? This is all I’ve got left. This,' she pushed the gun into my forehead a little harder, 'is his. No one gave a shit about me. Not mum, or him or anyone.'
'I give a shit.'
'Well where the fuck were you when I needed you?'
I could have asked her the same thing. She recoiled. She'd let something slip. She grabbed her bag from the floor and stepped over the blood laden vomit.
'I'll walk from here, it's not far. I'm sorry about all this yeah?'
She turned away and began to shuffle down the street. Let her go.
'Wait!' I didn't even realise I’d called out to her. She turned back and looked at me, shaking her head. 'Get in, I’ll take ya.'

The passenger door behind me slammed shut and I started up the taxi again. I glanced into the rear view mirror, Red was looking down at her feet. The gun was at her side now rather than planted firmly against my head. I pulled away from the pavement and began rolling down into Lockwood as slow as I could.
'Murder isn't something you just get away with Red... and what about your kid? How are you going to explain all this when the time comes?'
'I'm not looking to get away with it.'
'So you'd rather go to jail is th-'
An empty plastic bottle bounced of the side of my head. It landed on the front seat covered with glass next to my cigarettes. It was some kind of medication but I couldn't see the label.
'What's that?' I asked dreading the answer.
'Ibuprofen,' she said in a small voice. I slammed on the brakes. The tires and Red shrieked in unison.
'We're going to the hospital.' I began to turn the car around, doing a u-turn at the cross junction at the foot of Beaumont Park road.
'No!' I heard the gun click as she brought it back to it's original position. The metal against my head had a rather different reaction though. I slammed the brakes once more, the gun pressed hard into my skull.
'Look. I'm tired, I’ve been in this fucking taxi for nine hours. Hell, I’ve been in this fucking taxi for seventeen years right and you... you come in and you don't even realise what you're doing to me.'
'Drive. Now! I swear I’ll-'
'I ain't going no where, alright? If you wanna shoot me then fucking shoot me but i'm not moving up that hill any more. We're going to the hospital or you're on your own.'
Without a word she scrambled out of the car and staggered towards her destination. A sense of relief washed over me but it didn't last long. Agitated, I grabbed my box and shoved another cigarette in my mouth. The lighter refused to work. I slammed it into the dash board – that always fixed things. It worked. Leave you old fool. I inhaled, feeling the burning sensation at the back of my throat. She doesn't feel the same way. She's half your age. I inhaled again, deeper. Smoke began to filter out from my nostrils. Half your age, half in love. I inhaled again – too much, the smoke filled my lungs and caused me to cough. I shook my head as I started the ignition again and turned around.
'Fuck sake.'

I bombed up the hill, looking for Westridge Drive, it was somewhere on the right. I glanced behind me and caught a glimpse of a street sign in the rear view mirror. I’d passed it. I slammed on my breaks and turned the car around. I frantically searched for Red. I got to the end of the cul de sac and looked around; to my left there were raised voices and shouting. I rushed out of the taxi and headed into the drive. Blood covered the gate. Up ahead I saw light streaming out of the front door. Red had Wayne held at gunpoint.
I called out to her, 'Don't!'
Red turned to see who shouted. Wayne made his move in that tiny opening and tackled her to the ground. I charged in a moment after and pulled him off her. Throwing us both into the opposite general direction. My head hit the stone wall. We tumbled to the floor. Wayne got to his feet first and kicked me in the head, the sole of his boot forced my skull to crack against the stone step. The world span violently. Wayne pulled me to my feet, his large, shaggy beard just millimetres from my face.
‘Who are you?’
I didn't answer. Wayne drew his large forehead back and struck me in the bridge of the nose. I staggered back, eyes teaming with tears. The gun shot exploded out of no where. Blood splattered forward and landed on my face, warm and surreal. Wayne fell to the floor, the bullet had struck the side of his head and torn a bit of his face off. Red collapsed against the wall retching once more. I tore my eyes away from Wayne and rushed over to her.
I knelt beside her. She fell into my arms, blood trickling from her mouth.
'Hold on, Red. Just hold on. I'll call an ambulance.'
I fought against my tight pocket and slid my phone out. She knocked it out of my hands and gingerly shook her head.
'You came back.'
'Aye. Look, I’ll call the ambulance. I can get your kid too and we can sort this out yeah? Just hold on.' I dialled.
'He would have been such a beautiful boy.' Her body shook as she held onto her stomach and then went still. I pulled her matted hair away from her face. Her lifeless eyes stared right through me to the stars.
The emergency operator squawked from the mobile. I didn't know what to say. They asked for a name. I didn't know it. I didn't know anything about her but it didn't matter to me. In my sorry existence called a life all that mattered to me was her. I was headed towards a hemp rope noose and she was the light. At least... that's what I tell myself at night.