Sunday, 16 December 2012

Postcards from Spira

It's not been the easiest of weeks over at Well-Rendered Towers. I've been dealing with it by thinking a lot about Final Fantasy. Not playing it, you understand, just reading things people have written about it. Most notably Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Ultimate Walkthrough, edited by Jason P. Blahuta and Michel S. Beulieu. It's a collection of essays that, as the title suggests, discuss the philosophical questions raised by the games.

During my reading I've realised that there's a lot more to Final Fantasy than even a legendary overthinker such as myself ever really gave it credit for, that I've missed reading academic criticism and that Auron was probably my first video game crush.

Tidus marvels at Auron's pin-up potential.
More Final Fantasy writing to come in the form of the Final Fantasy VII playthrough but in the meantime, here's the incredible Random (Mega Ran) with "AVALANCHE" from his brilliant Black Materia album, in which he remixes the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack and beings the narrative to life with deft, witty rap.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 3 - Attacking the Second Reactor


First, a recap.

"Hell Bubbles"?
 
Cloud (a mercenary), Barret (a terrorist) and Tifa (a woman), are on their way to blow up the Sector 5 Mako reactor. Mako is a powerful energy source being used by Shinra, a large and most likely malevolent corporation, to provide the planet's energy and make lots of money. According to Barret, their activities are putting the planet in huge danger, and so he and his band of fellow environmentalists, AVALANCHE, decide to blow up Shinra's reactors.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Francis "York" Morgan and other things I don't understand

My latest Character Select is an examination of Deadly Premonition's Francis "York" Morgan through the prism of David Lynch. It's pretty spoiler-heavy, so if you haven't played the game and want to, I'd suggest not reading it until you do. For everyone else, here's what went through my mind as I wrote it.


My favourite part of writing the article was the research; I watched Mulholland Drive three times, every time looking at it from a different perspective, finding another potential meaning in its strange events. Before the Deadly Premonition article, I hadn't seen the film since I was a teenager, when I hated it. That was a time when I thought everything had to have an answer, that only lazy or incoherent writers failed to tie up all the loose ends in their narratives.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 2 - AVALANCHE and the Slums


Having blown up a Mako reactor, it's up to Cloud, Barret, Wedge, Biggs and Jessie to escape the explosion, and anyone who might be coming after them.

Cloud is propelled out of the exploding Mako reactor.

As soon as they emerge, Cloud asks Barret for his payment, exhibiting his mercenary tendencies. What childhood trauma left you so cold, Cloud? Don't you know the fate of the planet is at stake, and that Avalanche is trying to stop Shinra Electric Power Company from polluting it further?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

National Novel Writing Month

Back in 2010, I took part in National Blog Posting Month, in which I posted one blog post a day for a month. Nearly. It was quite difficult to do every day, and I'm not sure what I gained out of it. Slightly more blog posts than I would usually publish, about rather more throwaway things.



This year, I'm taking part in the altogether more scary-sounding National Novel Writing Month. Guess what that entails. One of the instructions is to "tell your inner editor to take a hike" so your inner writer can run naked and free through the fertile pastures of your imagination. I've just written 1,000 words before work (another 600 to go today), and it's incredibly difficult. My inner editor said she was going on a trip but she keeps popping back because she "forgot" something.

"Just checking you're ok... Oh, you don't want to put that there, it doesn't make any sense. Why don't any of the places have names? You can't just put them in later, or you'll forget what you're talking about. I think you're being too ambitious, why don't you sit down and have a proper think about it. Maybe write out a plan, like you learned to do at school. Should you be eating that, by the way? Just a thought..."

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Final Fantasy VII Playthrough: Part 1 - The First Reactor


When I heard that Final Fantasy VII was being re-mastered and released on the PC earlier this year, I wondered if it would playing it through properly for the first time and documenting it in blog form.

The Final Fantasy VII title screen.

I've been thinking of doing a written "Let's Play" for a while, because "Let's Plays" are a cross between travel writing and game criticism. I'd never do a recorded, spoken-word "Let's Play" for reasons that will be clear to anyone who've heard my aborted attempts at podcasting, but writing one will, I hope, be fun. I did think about starting a new blog for the purpose, but then I'd have to update it regularly, and I don't really have time for that alongside Well-Rendered. This Final Fantasy VII playthrough on Well-Rendered will be updated whenever I have time, so don't be surprised if it takes well over a year.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Katherine Marlowe and "The Waste Land"

Today marks the first time I have written about modernist poetry for GodisaGeek, and I feel it's long overdue. Katherine "Scary Poppins" Marlowe is the subject of this week's Character Select because she really serves the narrative, if not necessarily the game.


I've played Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception through four times now. Four. Twice on "crushing" difficulty. The shooting stops being challenging after playing it that many times, so clearly I just do it for the story. In fact, this was probably the most difficult Character Select I've written, certainly the one I spent the most time on. I just wanted to do the story and the character justice, really, and I hope that came across. Thank you everyone at Naughty Dog for turning out something so wonderful, you've given me many happy hours.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Tomb Raider box art verdict and immersion-destroying hair.

I don't usually bother commenting on gaming news on Well-Rendered because as you might have noticed, I tend not to write about very recent releases. About once or twice a year, I'll buy something on release day and end up writing about it a couple of weeks later, but the rest of the time I tend not to get round to playing something until it's been out for at least six months.

"That trailer was lame."

I also try and avoid news about games I'm really interested in because I fear the hype machine that claimed me and forty of my hard-earned pounds back in 2010 with the release of Final Fantasy XIII. If I really want to play a new or upcoming game, I'll ignore it for a few months, then start reading blogs and reviews by people whose opinions I trust. That way, I generally manage to avoid disappointment.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

You don't need my voice girl, you have your own.

I'm currently reading Possession, A. S. Byatt's 1990 Booker Prize-winning novel about an academic quest to uncover hidden details in the biographies of two fictional Victorian writers. The title has many meanings, amongst them the feeling of ownership a writer feels for his or her subject, and the ownership the subject has over them, whether they like it or not.

Possession, by A. S. Byatt

A particular passage has stuck with me. It concerns James Blackadder, eminent scholar and biographer of fictional poet Randolph Henry Ash. We are granted a window into Blackadder's inner life as he muses upon a life spent dissecting the words of another:

"There were times when Blackadder allowed himself to see clearly that he would end his working life, that was to say his conscious thinking life, in this task, that all his thoughts would have been another man's thoughts, all his work another man's work. And then he thought it did not perhaps matter so greatly. He did after all find Ash fascinating, even after all these years. It was a pleasant subordination, if he was a subordinate."

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Character Select and Well-Rendered maintenance

I haven't really introduced Character Select properly, which is most neglectful. If it slipped under your radar (because I haven't really introduced it properly), it's a column, by me, in which I "select" a video game "character" and write about 2,000 words about how awesome they are or what they say about post-colonial tensions in millennial Britain, or why I really like their hair.

Frank Pritchard does have pretty swell hair.

I'm very much enjoying it, not least because it gives me an excuse to re-play one of my favourite games every other week for "research".

To give it the fanfare it should have had when it launched back in August, I've created a page on this blog with links to all articles that I will update as more are published.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Frank Pritchard and the Dangers of Whimsy

Best. Band name. Ever.

While you think about that, and try and deal emotionally with Well-Rendered's new look, here's some Frank Pritchard concept art.




Now, I like Frank Pritchard because I like the nerds. This week, I decided I liked them so much, I'd write a whole article about Frank Pritchard for Character Select, but I wasn't prepared for where that would take me.

Namely here (NSFW)!

I want to write a lot more about fan-fiction because I enjoyed "researching" this week's Character Select rather more that it's probably safe to admit, but it's too late for that tonight.

As you can see, Well-Rendered's had a rather garish makeover, not entirely on purpose. I thought editing the HTML in my template would be a really good idea when I was tired, and I managed to delete my header. You know, the jagged crayola .gif that's been up there for the last three years.

I know, right? WHAT A SHAME.

Thing is, I was actually quite attached to that crappy little header, so rather than going about the reconstruction sensibly, I had a complete emotional collapse in the kitchen and spent about an hour panicking and forgetting everything I know about HTML, and by the time I'd created a template that looked halfway decent (using WYSIWYG because that's how I roll), it was too late to write about Frank Pritchard "with a bare chest, pink spoon and a dab of yoghurt for no reason".

"Pritchard's Yoghurt Night", by doubleleaf, one of my new favourite fan artists. Visit, admire.


What am I saying, it's never too late for that.

Anyway, I'd like to write more about fan art and fan fiction because they really are things I take great delight in. They're also things that people can be pretty snobby about, and I'd like to take some time to show my appreciation.

In the meantime, I've added a Fan Art board to my Pinterest, which probably says more about me than anything I've ever written on...




Thursday, 6 September 2012

How... Pinteresting

I've resisted Pinterest for a long time because as far as I could because I was thought it was just a place where girls just stuck pictures of pretty stuff. Turns out I was right, but it seems I'd forgotten that I am a girl and I like pretty stuff, so now I have a Pinterest. It is here.

Ricardo Bofill's incredible cement factory conversion, which now adorns my Pinterest.

It's not especially creative on my part, but I quite like having a place to put things I think are beautiful or inspiring, even though it doesn't really serve a purpose beyond amusing me.

If you came here looking for original content about video games, you're actually in luck: Mark Bridle from GodisaGeek is writing a column, "The Story Mechanic", over at the site, and last week he spoke to me about JRPGs for a while. "The Story Mechanic Part Five: Mark and Mark Talk JRPGs" contains a lot of me being a grump-o-saurus but Mark's awfully good-natured about it and asks a lot of insighful questions. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Stuff done since June 14th, 2012

Yep, one of these again.

Books read

I actually finished Middlemarch. It took me a year, not including a false start which saw me devour a mere 300 pages of it back in 2008. Completing it was a relief, I won't lie. Still, I definitely enjoyed it, or I wouldn't have finished it. Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy, whatever their merit (see: Dickens).

In the meantime I also read Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, which I enjoyed despite it being quite strange, and What I Talk about when I Talk about Running by the same author.

I also started reading Game of Thrones because I realised I haven't read any fantasy since Harry Potter. I'm usually more of a sci-fi person but I felt like reading a big yarn about swords and Game of Thrones hit the spot. Trying to read the book at the same time as the television show is being broadcast while simultaneously avoiding spoilers is quite a challenge for a person who spends as much time on the internet as I do.

Since I haven't seen the TV show and am too terrified of spoilers to look it up, I'm not entirely sure who this is meant to be (Ned maybe?), but, you know... swords, Boromir, a bunch more swords... What's not to like?

Speaking of faddy books, I have not read and will never read 50 Shades of Grey but Karl Webster listed its 15 worst sentences on his blog and it's quite funny if you find bad writing as much as I do.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Feminism, Objectification, Tomb Raider: E3, The Verdict

Yesterday, I posted a picture of Lara Croft as a Disney Princess using Disney Princess Creation tool. I tried to make a Disney Princess version of myself, but when I realised the tool didn't have glasses (because there's no such thing as a myopic princess, apparently), I moved on to Lara, at which point I discovered the tool didn't even have the kind of clothes that would facilitate going outside, let alone go adventuring.

Lara Croft as a Disney Princess, apparently.

Little did I know how relevant it would turn out to be once I finally got round to catching up on all the Tomb Raider coverage from E3. Not since Lara Croft first emerged in her short shorts has the series attracted so much feminist ire (here, here, here, etc). So even though the Well-Rendered High Horse died long ago from malnutrition and neglect, I'm going to exhume its corpse and flog it a little as I try and determine why this is, and whether it's a bad thing for the series.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Do NOT drive whilst using this product! Also chickens.

Anyone want to guess where I've been for the last couple of weeks? Here's a clue:


This is my favourite bit:


Is that because they're alcoholic? Because I can see how that would be a problem.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Nathan Drake Look-Alike Competition!

Last week I wrote a review of LightBox Interactive's Starhawk, which I really wanted to like, but didn't. There were lots of reasons I didn't, and one aspect of its design which made all its shortcomings that much more apparent. See if you can guess what it is...


Where have I seen that scarf before?


Now, Uncharted 3 and Starhawk aren't really trying to do the same thing, but they both feature dudes out in the desert trying to shoot down waves of enemies. And solid shooting sequences are just one aspect of Uncharted 3 that made it so awesome, the others being spectacular platforming, an almost incomparably good script and the thrilling story. So really, given that shooting is not Starhawk's forte, it's pretty unfortunate that Emmett is wearing Nathan's scarf.

It's like the way Lady Gaga accentuates the things she is least good at by making sure she's always doing them at a time when she's dressed exactly like Madonna.

I have now compared Nathan Drake to both Tori Amos and Madonna. And now I'm going to compare him to someone else! Here's a picture of him in Uncharted 2:


Hey, nice jacket Nate. Where did you get it? You didn't have it when you arrived in Tibet, so you must have got it somewhere. It's almost like someone left it in Tibet ten years ago, and you thought you'd make off with it. But who could have done that?


Huh.

I replayed Tomb Raider II recently (something I will of course be documenting in due course), and was struck by how much the Barkhang Monastery level resembled the Nepali mountain village and monastery sequences in Uncharted 2.

Now, I know they were both based on real-life places, and that both look remarkably similar to those places, which is impressive for a game as old as Tomb Raider, but the similarities in the architecture are more striking because of the similarities in the platforming. When Nathan balances on precarious ledges and leaps to a moutain covered in flags, it's hard not to imagine Lara doing the same thing. And they both spend a lot of time faffing about with prayer wheels.

Still, the comparison doesn't really hurt either game, since platforming's about all they have in common. And if the similarity is intentional, I would imagine Nathan's paying homage to Lara, rather than just ripping her off.

I guess the moral of the story is, if you're going to imitate someone, at least make sure you look as good as them in a flight jacket. Or something.



Sunday, 8 April 2012

Art I found on an ancient USB drive.

My A-level Politics class. When I was 18, the UK had this system (though for all I know, it still does), whereby you took 4 subjects at age 17, doing a year of each, and then dropping one after a year so you could concentrate on your three best subjects in order to get into university. I took English, Biology, Art and Politics. English because I was good at it, Biology because I was told it was good to have a science (that's rubbish, teenagers of today. It's good to have THREE sciences, because then you can actually get a job after you graduate), Art because I wanted to go to art college, and Politics because the teacher was notorious for letting his students eat biscuits in class.

Becca, me, Faye, Da-Hae

I planned to drop Politics, but after three miserable months of inhaling white spirit and failing to be inspired by my own enormous oil paintings of paperclips (yes, really), I tearfully admitted that Art was going to have to go. Cue two years of eating biscuits, doodling in class and getting dreadful exam results.


Friday, 6 April 2012

Tetris is a metaphor for life. Apparently.

Last week, I wrote about how it isn't doesn't always do games a favour when you try to delve too deeply into their symbolism, or lack thereof. So it is appropriate that this month's EDGE devoted a double page spread to "gaming's most perfect and mercurial artifact," Tetris' long block.


"Tetris imitates life." declared EDGE. "You build an even, supported structure out of the raw materials of daily existence, and react to the challenges that befall it. You clear away the detritus to begin anew. Nothing in life is certain, but your hope is at some point that missing piece - that lover, that raise, that child, that job - will appear and fall into place."

The article goes on to compare the long block with the aforementioned lover/raise/child/job, and concludes by equating creator Alexey Pajitnov's assessment of the game ("you play on the edge of your abilities") to "a life well lived".

I don't disagree with EDGE, but I think their comparison of a puzzle game to "life" is a comparison you could make to pretty much anything, especially a game. I'd hesitate to call the article pretentious, but... no, actually, I wouldn't. The article is pretentious.

But it's in EDGE, and if silly articles about Tetris is the price I have to pay for thoughtful,  well-researched articles about the psychology of gamers' avatars and retrospective interviews with the makers of classic games that I'm unlikely to find anywhere else, then fine.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Wheeeeeeee!

When I started writing this blog, I had just finished my degree, and I wanted to write about video games with the same intellectual rigour as I had been writing about books for the previous three years, for all the good that did the world. I don't know why I'm reminding you of this, since it's so incredibly embarassing, but the slogan under the Well-Rendered logo at the time was "On a quest to re-shape the language of video game journalism".

Ugh.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Top 10 Tomb Raider Moments

As Samuel Johnson once said, "when a girl is tired of Tomb Raider, she is tired of life".


Never a truer word was spoken, especially not by Johnson, which I why I have written an article about the Top 10 Tomb Raider Moments for GodisaGeek. I love how they let me write about this stuff.

The picture, as ever, is Katie's. Katie went to the Game Developers' Conference (GDC, acronym fans) in San Francisco earlier this month and got to go round the Crystal Dynamics offices. Although I am envious of her journey, I am possibly more envious of Crystal Community Manager (and cosplay maestro) Meagan Marie's desk. I have desk envy.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Murphy Pendleton Looks Like Trent Reznor

This must be deliberate, right?


I'm pretty sure it is because Mr Pendleton is the star of Silent Hill: Downpour, and Maria from Silent Hill 2 has the exact face of Cameron Diaz and the exact outfit of Christina Auguilera.

Though now that I think about it, I'm kind of disappointed that Pendleton only has Reznor's head. I feel like maybe he should have someone else's body. Maybe Dr Roxxo the cocaine-snorting clown from Metalocalypse, since we're clearly on a metal theme here.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Well-Rendered Mother's Day Special! Or, More Accurately, My Favourite Games of 2011

I never did a rundown of 2011 on Well-Rendered. This is mainly because I spent 2011 playing JRPGs on the PlayStation 2, which, as anyone who's ever played a JRPG on the PlayStation 2 will attest, leaves little time for anything else. I did play some new games however, and I feel enough time has elapsed for me to tell you which my favourites were.

Dark Souls' Cheshire Cat. Smiley.

The best game was Dark Souls. Its brilliance comes in being so clear with what it wishes to achieve, so precise in its execution, and thus so compelling, a feat when you consider how brutally difficult it is. It's also got the best monster design I have ever seen, which, for the benefit of any goldfish reading this, is saying something because I play a lot of JRPGs.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Encore

This story was written in 2009, as part of my creative writing course at uni. It's not autobiographical.

For the first few songs, Pippa watched herself watching Claudia, and it wasn’t until Claudia decided to play a B-side that Pippa didn’t know that she relaxed her shoulders and began to listen. After the sixth song, Eric got up to go to the loo, and Pippa tapped her fingers nervously until he got back, hoping that Claudia would not play her favourite song while he was away. Whenever Claudia sang the most important words, Pippa would grip Eric’s hand and stare intently at the stage, casting furtive glances at him. Eric clapped and smiled at the end of every song.

Every now and again, Pippa pressed her hand against the small leather bag on her lap, feeling the shape of the mushroom. She had wrapped it in tissue paper to protect it, but it didn’t stop her compulsively checking to make sure the cap had not become dislodged from the stalk. She knew that some fans held Claudia’s hands after the show, fixing their brimming eyes on hers. Some showed her tattoos of song lyrics, or had their photo taken with her. Pippa could not decide on her favourite lyric, and she thought Claudia must tire of having her photo taken. Claudia was an artist; she understood the process, appreciated craftsmanship. Years from now, she’d sit cat-like in the battered leather chair in her studio, cup of green tea in her hand, giving an interview. ‘Oh that?’ she’d say, glancing at the mushroom on the shelf behind her. ‘A fan made that for me. Good, isn’t it?’


Monday, 5 March 2012

Behind the Scenes

Here's a GodisaGeek roundup. Initially I was planning to write a separate little post for each one because in each case I think there's something interesting to say about how each one was written. It's hard for me to tell if what I had planned would actually be interesting because I never wrote it, and now I think it probably wasn't. Is time a great editor, or does it just make you apathetic? How many great novels would never have been written if the authors just thought "oh, it probably wouldn't have been that interesting, and my husband's always telling me to be less introspective. Maybe I'll go and do some volunteering instead..."

Probably a lot. But then maybe our municipal gardens would be in better shape.

Obviously my discussion of my list of top 10 video game couples is comparable to a literary masterpiece. Yes, this is first on the GodisaGeek rundown.


No, Snow and Serah aren't on there. They're rubbish. Fang and Vanille are, though. Interestingly, the list nearly turned into top 10 video game love triangles, but I couldn't come up with 10. Here's my list (in no particular order):


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Let's Play!


Since broadband made it really easy to upload massive videos to YouTube, there's been a proliferation of people uploading really long videos of stuff you might not have thought to film.

I love that stuff. Here's a guy unboxing his special edition copy of Catherine, which comes with free pants.


There's all kinds of internet pontificating about why this is so popular. The Independent seem to think it's "geek porn", watching the sexy gadget/game get undressed as you covet it from your swivel chair like a eunuch with an office job. Whatever. I just find it oddly compelling, even when I don't particularly care about the game. I love how there's this guy just narrating himself opening a box one-handed on top of his Lion King bedspread.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Stuff Done Since July 31st 2011

Books Read

I started reading Middlemarch by George Eliot. That was September, and I still haven't finished it. I haven't read a book written prior to 1900 for about four years, so it's taking a while. People in Eliot's time spent a lot more time sitting in parlours reading and a lot less time playing Skyrim. I spoke about this with someone who reads a LOT of books (and has never played a video game), and he said it took him years to finish Don Quixote, so I probably shouldn't worry. Anyway, Middlemarch is great, and Eliot lived a fairly interesting life.

I took a break to read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is probably his best novel. The premise is that everything humans worship has a physical form, is a "god", and that America's old gods, the gods carried to the new world by its earliest people, are being challenged by the new gods, the acne-faced, wire-smoking young god of computers and the terrifying metal-toothed god of cars. Gaiman's a great author, who has a beautifully simple turn of phrase, using very few words to say an awful lot. It is amazing how few authors have his ability to create tangibly believable magical worlds just by calmly stating what is going on.

I read some more Middlemarch, and now I've taken another break to read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsky, which is amazing. It's a cross between the most terrifying horror novel you will ever read and a satire of academic criticism (w***er alert). The pages look like this:



Tuesday, 3 January 2012

I am not dead!

But I am totally rubbish at blogging at the moment.

One of my absolute favourite books is Matilda by Roald Dahl. For those of you who don't know the story (or only know it from the servicable Danny DeVito adaptation), Matilda tells the story of a six-year old girl whose incredible intelligence is stifled by her television-addicted parents. Rather than getting frustrated, Matilda buries herself in books, cultivating a rich inner life until the time comes for her to start school.

The rest of the post contains spoilers, though you should really have read Matilda already because it's one of the best books ever.


Despite having the wonderful Miss Honey as a teacher, Matilda still isn't allowed to flourish because her terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, hates children, is convinced she never was one, and refuses to acknowledge their humanity, let alone their brilliance. As a result, Matilda's phenominal abilities, frustrated intellectually, begin to manifest themselves in a different, wholly more magical way. 


At the end of the book Matilda (I'm serious about those spoilers) finds herself rescued from her ghastly parents by Miss Honey and moved into a class of eleven-year olds, where she is both challenged and satisfied. At the end of the book, Matilda confides in Miss Honey that her magical powers have completely vanished.

*    *    *
Other than a love of books, I don't have much in common with the brilliant Matilda, a heroine who I like to think girls and boys can identify with and root for. However, I hope her story is illuminating in this context.

Happy new years everyone!