Monday, 23 August 2010

And so it came to pass that Mary did finally publish a blog post...


1. I am so sorry I keep publishing posts by mistake. There's a keyboard shortcut I keep pressing. Very unprofessional, I'm sorry. Also it spoils the surprise for when I actually post something.

2. I am also sorry that I haven't been that regular of late. I know 2,500(ish) words a week isn't that much, but it takes me a long time to actually garner the material I need to write something decent. I have to play the games in the first place, and then I often have to spend a while doing research and reading around because my knowledge is initially quite limited.
     It was much easier a year ago because I had a whole lifetime of gaming knowledge to draw on, whereas now I have to learn new things or I will start repeating myself. My approach is also quite time-consuming. I don't tend to comment on new releases or gaming news because there are thousands of other gaming sites where you could go for these things, first hand. I'm trying to write things that haven't been written before and it takes me quite a while to formulate them. I do also work full time, so it's not always easy to balance work, games research/reading/playing/writing and doing the other things I value (trying to keep up with friends, reading). Oh, and I'll be starting a course in October as well, and I am a bit worried about its effect on Well-Rendered.
     I know time management is something that everyone struggles with, and none of this is meant to be an excuse, just an explanation.

3. I started Well-Rendered because there was a writing-shaped hole in my life once I had finished university (English and American Literature, concentrating on post-war American stuff in the final year. I loved every minute), and I just wanted to make sure my creative muscles didn't atrophy. I decided to write about games because I knew a lot about them and I'd never really had the chance to write about them before so it seemed sensible. Writing about them has made me realise quite how much I care about them and their future, and how much they have influenced me as a person (yikes!).
     Consequently, I care much more about this  blog than I ever thought I would and the fact that people who don't sort of have to read it (Hello Mum) do so is quite overwhelming. I have honestly never put a piece of writing out into the world before I started doing this, and people's responses (such as those from the truly lovely people of the Tomb Raider online fan community) have meant a huge amount to me. This means that I feel guilty when I don't manage to get a post out. Not because I imagine you all weeping into your Donkey Kong duvet covers and downing vats of Blossom Hill wondering where on earth you are going to get this week's dose of relentlessly optimistic Beyond Good and Evil-worship, but because think you deserve my time. If that makes sense.
4 - As you probably know (because I posted this by mistake earlier, oh f******* dear), I'll be away for a couple of weeks because I'm going on a west coast road trip from Vancouver to San Diego and back. As you do. I don't think I'll be able to publish anything whilst I'm out there, so I am pre-emptively sorry for that too. Please rest assured that I haven't forgotten about Well-Rendered and that I will be on the case when I get back.

Oh, and the weather is foul in London. It's too hot and humid to sleep and it's been raining all night. Sleep deprivation is compounding my feelings of guilt. Woe is me etc. Let's talk about video games.

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I was going to write something quite elaborate this week, but it just hasn't materialised. Seeing as I seem to be at something of a crossroads at the moment, I think I'll just cannibalise the last post (that you may well have read BECAUSE I POSTED IT BY MISTAKE TWICE) and re-enforce just one reason why video games are so great.

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Have you ever read The Lord of the Rings?

I don't mean just seen the films or read The Hobbit, I mean actually read those books? Did you then go on to read The Silmarillion? How about the 12-volume The History of Middle Earth?


I salute your tenacity. You see, much as I love The Hobbit, I must admit to struggling a bit with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's not that they are bad books. The characters are terrific, the quest is exciting and the monsters terrifying. I don't even mind that women don't really feature, because when they do appear they are so completely  insubstantial that I was glad when they wafted ethereally away. Tolkein couldn't write women to save his life, but he wisely recognised that if something isn't your forte, you should probably refrain from doing it. (Which no-one told this lady, bless her. Speakers up, rubber pants on).

Whilst the creation of Middle Earth is undoubtedly a magnificent achievement, I cannot find a space for it in my life. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with spending hours immersing yourself in a fantasy world purely for the sake of doing so. I spent three years doing a degree in just that. But I do wonder whether the written word is truly the best medium for exploring such a rich and complex history and culture, given that it is made up and it's not very easy to go on holiday there.

Novels can do things that video games can't, and I don't really think that the story of The Lord of the Rings could be better told by a video game. But I do feel that perhaps the world of Middle Earth and its vast and complex history would be an interesting one for players to be able to explore freely. A history's effect upon a world is arguably as interesting as the history itself.

In games, it is the world which is at the centre of the narrative, not the main character. In this sense, it is the opposite to a novel. For example, the science fiction genre contains some of the most wonderful imaginary worlds ever created, but some of the worst writing, the most hollow characters and the weakest plots. Of course there are writers who do everything very well, but because much science fiction comes from a desire to create an alternative world rather than tell a story, story often suffers. Rather than having a half-formed character lead us through a half-formed plot, how much better to present a world and allow the reader to explore?

Video games can do this. Take the utterly magnificent Fallout 3, in which the USA receives an alternative past and a desolate future. Hundreds of stories are told in this game, and they all contribute to the story of the world itself. There's no one history for the player to read, scholar-fashion. But there are thousands of clues and conflicting stories scattered all around the Washington DC wasteland.

Somewhere to the North of the Washington monument, there is a radio relay tower. If you're curious (and you're good enough at repairing things), you can turn it on. If you remain in the vicinity, you'll start to pick up a looped recording, broadcast from the tower. It says:

"If anyone can hear this, this is Bob Anderstein. My family and I have taken refuge in a drainage chamber not too far from a radio relay tower outside of D.C. My boy is very sick, needs medical assistance. Please help if you can. We're listening for your response. 3950 kilohertz."

So you go looking for the drainage chamber, and the Anderstein family. Eventually, you find the chamber, but inside there are only skeletons, and a few children's toys. You don't need to do this to complete the game, indeed it's so hidden that you'd be unlikely to find it at all unless you stumbled across it completely by chance (as I did). But it teaches you more about the wasteland than you could ever learn second-hand.

Whilst crippled and scavenging for provisions elsewhere in the game, I came across a small house. Upstairs were two skeletons intertwined on a bed. On the table beside them was a bottle of pills. I was injured, so I took the pills.

Rather than read a definitive history of the wasteland, you learn about it by talking to people, but you have to bear in mind that like real people, they are biased, so you'll have to piece the truth together for yourself. Elsewhere, there are computers to hack into, which might contain something as innocuous as a repair log, but they might also reveal a diary. Most interesting are the terminals in Vault 87, which chronicle the creation of the Super Mutants, long after their authors have succumbed to their own creations. You don't have to read them, of course. But if you're curious, the information is there.

Ok, I feel a bit better now. I hope you're all well, thank you so much for reading/following/commenting/lurking/whatever it is that you do and I'll see you all in a couple of weeks.

Well, not really "see".


  1. Your posts are always informative and entertaining. Worth waiting for.

    By the way, yes I read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Multiple times. I haven't read the Silmarillion though it is on my shelf. There is a multi-volume History of Middle Earth I would love to read sometime. I saw the Two Towers 11 times in the theater and innumerable times on DVD.

  2. Perhaps a large part of the reason why computer game worlds can be so large and novels can't is that the people playing/reading them are looking for different things out of the two experiences? With games like Fallout 3 part of the attraction is that there is so much to explore and it is such an interactive experience. All of the little hidden features like you mentioned are regarded as being cool and fun, whereas if it was done in a book then people would probably think of it as being an annoyance that adds nothing to the story.

    A book is also a linear experience, you start at page 1 and keep reading line after line until you get to the end, whereas a game allows and in many cases encourages and rewards you for exploring the environment. Indeed for games in that genre part of the appeal is that you can spend countless hours playing it and constantly be discovering new things, whereas once you have read a book it is over and done with. Which is not to say that you can't go back and read it again, but you're unlikely to discover anything new.

    Hope you enjoy your trip to North America, sadly the weather in London is still pretty dreadful!