Hitting that nostalgic note

It’s late, and I’m clicking through Youtube watching random clips while waiting for the cheese in my chorizo and mushroom toastie to melt. All my neighbours are likely in bed, and no cars drive by on my street this late, so the only sounds are coming from my laptop and the sandwich press. I scroll through the suggested options, pick a video and watch as it takes two seconds to load up the inevitable advertisement. It starts, and I hear it. Six notes that hit me deep in the frontal lobe; the opening riff to the Battlefield series theme.

Duh dun duh duh duh Daaaah!

And suddenly it’s well over a decade ago, and I’m at a mate’s place watching him put a rocket through the hatch of a German tank in the original Battlefield 1942. I’m in high school and internet cafes are a thing, me and the lads are hanging around Burwood Westfields; we watch a movie, we get lunch, maybe we hang in the park, then we disappear into a well-lit room filled with rows of computers to gun each other down in Battlefield 2 or Battlefield Vietnam. I’m at home and killing time on Battlefield Heroes, free-to-play, casual-as-fuck, a-lot-of-fun, and maybe the only time I’ve ever been good at an online multiplayer shooter (funny how much I’m reminded of that goofy browser game, that no-one else remembers, whenever I see Fortnite – makes me happy to see a goofy browser doing so well). Hell, I remember going paintballing for the first time when I was sixteen, at a place over in Rouse Hill with an old decommissioned tank sitting in the parking lot, humming that song as the others laughed and joined in.

I realise that I haven’t played a Battlefield game since Bad Company 2. A mate leant it to my brother so he could play the multiplayer, and I went through the campaign. It was fun. Not amazing, not ground-breaking, but I probably would have played the sequel that was promised at the end (but never came, you dreadful teases). I lost interest with the series (as did everybody else) with the forgettable 2142, all the way back in 2006. I played a bit of 1943 when it came out a few years later, but completely ignored 3, 4, and definitely Hardline. What the fuck even was Hardline? Like yeah, EA has a problem of trying to hop bandwagons with its shooters (think Medal of Honour 2010, and Warfighter), but who were they trying to copy? Maybe Rainbow Six: Siege. I haven’t played Battlefield 1 either. The very concept felt odd to me. That brutal, crawling war of attrition did not seem like the best setting for the fast paced, mechanised fights of a Battlefield multiplayer match. Nor did what I saw of the Single Player campaign appeal to me (not least because it seemed more than a little America-centric – please feel free to correct me if that wasn’t the case).

And really, for all the nostalgia, the Battlefield series was never really that important to me. I played a lot more Age of EmpiresCivilization, and Command & Conquer. Even looking at the shooters I played, there was a lot more Medal of Honor and Call of Duty in the house. But that was back when single player mattered.

So I hadn’t put that much thought into Battlefield. I mean, I’d seen a few trailers before, and a few things had caught my eye. One of the campaign gameplay trailers (which I looked for but couldn’t find) ended with a lady with a European accent and a prosthetic arm beating a Nazi to death with a cricket bat, and, if I’m being honest, that is actually a very specific kink of mine. But for all that, I have no interest in any online multiplayer anything, so it just isn’t worth it. And I forgot about it.

But then…

Duh dun duh duh duh Daaaah!

Suddenly I want this game, I actually want this game all. Because I’m remembering shooting down my mate’s helicopter with the main gun of a tank, or playing cat and mouse with another sniper in an otherwise empty section of the map, or watching a good friend put rocket after rocket into panzer after panzer. And I know that those experiences were specific to where me and the mates were at the time, and I know that I can’t re-create those memories, and I do not give a shit about online multiplayer at all, but goddamn I want that game.

I’m not going to buy the game new, at least not at full price. I cannot emphasize enough for some reason that I do not play online multiplayer, but I’d like to play the campaign at some point. Because one-armed lady beating Nazi’s to death with a cricket bat. So I’ll wait for a sale.

Before, I wasn’t going to buy it at all.

The power of a piece of music, aye?

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Daredevil Season 3 is out, and…

…I still haven’t watched it.

Back when the first season of Daredevil was released I was immediately a fan. I watched the whole season in about two days, and spent the next six months proselytising the show to whoever would listen (and a few people who wouldn’t). Years later I still gush about that hallway fight as an amazing example of realistic brutality, but one that shows very little, letting our own imagination take over. Vincent D’onofrio’s version of Raymond Fisk was fuckin’ amazing; going from quiet and contemplative to furiously violent at the drop of a hat.

The second season was full of fantastic highs and frustrating lows. Introduction of the Punisher was a high, providing a true antagonist both physically and philosophically for Matt to spar with. Electra and the fuckin’ Hand? A low. A low that took up most of the season, and a low that carried along into The Defenders (alongside the frustratingly annoying Iron Fist). But it was worth it for The Punisher, and led to some great chats around the bar. About The Punisher, I cannot stress that enough.

I still binged (and enjoyed parts of) The DefendersLuke Cage season 2, and Jessica Jones season 2 as soon as they came out, and came out pretty satisfied. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the Marvel Netflix series, and I kept coming back to them. Until now.

But I haven’t watched the new season of Daredevil yet. And it doesn’t look like a whole lot of the usual suspects have either. I’m not seeing the reviews, analyses, breakdowns and discussions that popped up almost immediately after every other season (shit, even Iron Fist had a bunch “what went wrong?” and “this is how not to make a superhero series” videos appear on Youtube within hours).

Maybe we’re just burned out. Maybe superhero fatigue has finally set in. Maybe having to put up with Elektra and The Hand in both Daredevil and The Defenders has exhausted our faith in the character. Fuckin’ hell, when I saw in the Bullseye trailer that they were doing the whole “get a villain to impersonate the hero to ruin the hero’s reputation” trope, I lost most interest in watching the season. If they’re raising that tired storyline, then they either fired their good writers, or they’re getting desperate.

So I ain’t watched it yet. I will eventually, but for now… I’m rewatching The Wire right now. Goddamn that was a great show.

A quick thought on the Playstation Classic

I’m not a fan of Tekken. There’s nothing wrong with the game, I’m just not a fighting games is all. Nor am I fan of JRPGs or racing games outside of Mario Kart. So when news dropped about the Playstation Classic, a miniature PS1 with twenty classic games from that era on pre-loaded on, I really felt was a great big bloody “meh.”

Now, only five games out of the twenty have been made official (Tekken 3, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy 7, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, and Jumping Flash), so there’s every chance that the other 15 games on the list will get my heart racing. But if I’m going to be honest, probably not. Certainly not enough to get me to fork out however fucking much they decide to gouge us for it down here in Oz. Mind you it still got me thinking and asking myself a question I hadn’t really pondered before: which games from that era do I actually love? Which games would I actually pay to play again?

Y’see I’m definitely someone who’ll give in to nostalgia, but I’m also a fairly practical person who’ll discard a property that doesn’t live up to my rose-tinted expectations. There’s been a number of movies, shows and games that I’ve gone back to over the years for a rewatch or a replay, only to dismiss them because of bad narrative and dialogue, problematic themes, jokes that were a lot funnier when I was 10, or wonky controls. Oftentimes it’s a combination. That doesn’t necessary mean I suddenly dislike a property (though sometimes it does), it just means I can’t get through it again.

The big example for me is Red Dead Redemption. I fucking loved that game. I still love that game. But when I sat down after a year to try a replay I didn’t even make it to Mexico before I got tired of it, put down the controller and went to something else. Thing was I’d forgotten how unintuitive, janky and all-round frustrating the outdated controls were, and what got me through the first time was exploring the stunning world, the compelling characters and the fantastic narrative. When I picked up the game again, however, I’d already explored the world, I remembered the character beats, and I knew how the story ended. Without those things to distract me, well, the troubles involved with just shooting a bloke were a lot more apparent. So I couldn’t play it again, but I still call it one of the greatest games I ever played.

On the other side of the scale, I’ve played the original Mass Effect game through to completion probably close to a dozen times. Add another half-dozen playthroughs of Mass Effect 2 and just under of Mass Effect 3, and you’ve several hundred hours of shooting Geth and, a lot of the time, making the exact same decisions (though sometimes a little more violently). In fact one of the most frustrating things about changing consoles from the Xbox One to the Playstation 4 (when I moved) has been the lack of backwards compatibility. I would quite happily buy all three games again if it meant I could play through them on my PissPoor. That’s something I’d spend a hundred bucks on.

From the generation before I can name KotOR 2 (and the original KotOR for that matter), Jade Empire, the original Killzone, the original Call of DutyStar Wars: Battlefront, and bloody Lego Star Wars. Fuck, there’s actually a lot of games from then that I’d still play (and do if the option is available).

But from the original Playstation? Fucked if I know.

Y’know what, maybe the first Medal of Honor. I played through that game, Christ, I don’t know how many times. It was probably the first FPS I bought with my own money. Not the first FPS I ever played, that was probably Goldeneye on the N64 at my neighbours house, but the first First Person Shooter I owned, that I bought with my own money. I loved that game when I played it, and it was a great game for its time. I mean this was the title that launched what was, for a bunch of years, one of the biggest franchises in shooters. For a long time (amongst the cool kids at least) you went to Medal of Honor for your single-player campaigns and Battlefield for your multiplayer, until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came along and took both those titles.

Funny thing is that right now I don’t have fond memories of the gameplay, but I do of the narrative. This was the era of the truly silent protagonist, the briefing for each mission lasted for about as long as it took to load the game, and there were about three characters that I can remember in the whole game, including the player character, and only one of them spoke (Colonel Stanley Hargrove, voiced by William Morgan Sheppard). Yet it managed to make me care a whole lot, and started a whole bunch of tropes.

And that’s about it. That’s the only game I’m keen on trying again. And I paid twenty bucks Aussie for it a decade-and-a-half ago or so, I would not be keen to pay one hundred US. But that’s me though. Truthfully, I came to the PS1 scene late and I never got to stick my feet in the water as much as a lot of other people. We were poor. It happens and it doesn’t.

What I’m getting at is that people are getting excited about this, which is very fine. Truthfully we’ve been talking about a need to archive old games for years and this feels like a step in the right direction, even if it’s not a big enough step and it’s a little bit expensive (give me ports or give me death!) I’m already seeing plenty of “what should the other fifteen games be?” lists being written by people with much more experience, and people who like Tekken and JRPGs are already pretty happy about what’s on the Playstation Classic.

Let’s remember though that rose-tinted glasses do not provide the best view.

This is a step in the right direction, yeah. But maybe give me ports as well, aye?

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire – Same, same, but different

So I’ve been playing a lot of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire lately. A lot. Like I’ve been forgoing food and sleep in order to get an extra hour of sailing around a digital archipelago hunting pirates and a dead god that’s stolen part of my soul while also flirting relentlessly with a yellow sharpshooter and her bird (apparently they’re a package deal and I’m cool with that) before work. And, seven – sorry, eight – dozen hours of gameplay later I am still loving it.

And that’s a bit of a surprise, because I didn’t enjoy the first Pillars of Eternity this much. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a great game, they did an amazing job with it. It never quite managed to hold me all the way to the end, though. As great as the lore and world-building was, so many of the quests seemed a bit standard, and often felt oddly lacking in nuance and consequence (who cares which faction you side with in Defiance Bay, if everything goes down the same anyway?) The characters and their arcs were great, but controlling them was a frustrating affair at best and more than once a rage quit at worst. I wanted to know what happened next, but the combat encounters stopped being fun a few hours in and never really started again. So I stopped.

But Deadfire is different, without losing what I liked so much about the first game. The lore, if anything, is even richer. The various factions are big and established, with their own longterm goals beyond your own quest to deal with a newly arisen god, and internal disagreements on how to reach those goals. The non-player characters are a delight, and form their own relationships as your quests go on (everyone wants to be Xoti’s mate). Best of all the combat has been cleaned up. It’s no longer about resource management, as you hoard magic spells for the next possible battle and a lot more about placement and tactics. A little less micromanagement and a lot more fun. Yet, it’s still basically the same combat system.

There’s this wine I love from Jasper Hill Vineyard, a gorgeous fiano, that’s produced under the label ‘Lo Stesso.’ The name comes from an Italian phrase that translates, more or less, to “Same, same, but different.” The idea is that it takes a fairly traditional Italian grape, and adds an Australian twist to it. Keeps those old world flavours, but finishes with new world textures. And it’s fucking delightful. Like Deadfire. Same, same, but different.

View from this side of the Ocean (29/4/18): Haha, yeah.

From the beginning I want to make it very clear that, no matter the circumstances, I think that the tampon tax is stupid and should be axed. In Australia, that means the 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is levelled on anything deemed non-essential.

Which is odd considering that tampons are pretty fuckin’ essential to most women.

So Bill Shorten, leader of the federal Labor Party in opposition, has come out and said that they will remove the GST on sanitary pads if they win the next election (which they most likely will, according to current polling). Tanya Plibersek, deputy leader of the opposition, and Catherine King, shadow health minister, will spearhead the initiative provided Labor win, formally launching the policy today. Awesome.

Federal Liberal MP Sarah Henderson and the Liberal Women’s Council Victoria called on Scott Morrison, the Federal Treasurer, to dump the tax last year, so there’s a push within the government itself to support the initiative (if only to shore up a little support with women). Joe Hockey wanted to ditch the tax back in 2015, but Tony Abbott, PM and ‘Minister for Women’ (hahahaha), overruled him. Apparently at the time he said that: “We have to broaden the tax base, not start carving out politically correct exceptions.” Seriously, fuck that guy.

There will be some pressure on Malcolm Turnbull to support this issue. Will he? No fuckin’ idea if I’m being perfectly honest. Mr Turnbull would be wise to earn himself some goodwill amongst women by supporting the issue, but a number of members of his party seem to freak the fuck out at the thought of doing anything that might have any sort of positive effect on Australian women. Because fuck socialism, apparently. So we’ll see. I’d reckon Mr Turnbull’d be inclined to, but we’ll see.

And yeah, I’d reckon that a fair bit of Labor’s play in the issue is shoring up their own female vote against any turn towards the Greens, but one of the major political parties has made this policy and that is bloody fantastic.

What I really like about this particular policy though, is where Labor plans on making up the GST shortfall. They haven’t released full costings yet (and that is always a concern), but Labor reckon they can make up the shortfall by applying GST to services and products that the “Chief Medical Officer and National Health and Medical Research Council believe are not supported by scientific evidence.”

What do they mean by that? Well, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, naturopathy, pilates, reflexology, rolfing and shiatsu would all have GST added to the price. And seriously, why has all of this shit been GST exempt? Who the flyin’ fuck thought that goddamn healing crystals should be GST exempt while sanitary products that half the adult and adolescent population NEED are not?

So yeah, so far I’m chalking this up as a victory of common sense over bullshit. Let’s see where Aussie pollies go next with this. Here’s hoping they do the right thing.

Good art in gaming

So recently (as in over a month ago – I moved recently, give me a break) Cary over at Recollections of Play (great blog, check it out) posted an answer to the question, “are video games art?” The short version being yes, and the long answer being maybe if video games can be considered more than their code, cartridges and consoles. She raised some excellent points about how we define art and how that affects our views of what is and is not considered art. Great post, MS DOS is brought up, check it out.

Thing is, however, I’m not a big fan of the question.

Are video games art?

I hear or read this and my first response generally falls along the lines of, “Fuck off son, we’re doing this again?”

I mean, it’s been eleven years since Roger Ebert declared that “Video games can never be art” and seven years since he wrote an extended article on that subject, in which time we as a community have written millions of words that amount to “what the fuck did Roger Ebert know about video games anyway?” (something that Ebert himself reflected on only a few months later). Art is an experiential thing. Without an audience, without emotional interaction, a painting is just paint, a sculpture is just broken rock and a video game is just code. If you’re not part of the audience then you have no right to judge it either way, and those of us who do experience it – those of us who make emotional connections and find our thinking being adjusted – have generally come to the conclusion that yes, video games are indeed art (at least as much as any other narrative media). Much like hardcore pornography, it’s hard to define but we generally know it when we see it.

So, are video games art?

Well, yeah. We’ve all pretty much agreed on that right?

Now, before I go on I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think there is anything wrong with having this discussion. Such weighty concepts as the definition of art should be constantly debated, lest our culture stagnates or some fuckwit compares Justin Bieber to Tennyson or Shakespeare or Kanye. Nor am I saying that the opinions of those who disagree – those who say, “no actually, video games are not art” – are wrong. To the contrary, that’s a perfectly valid thing to believe and I’d love to hear your arguments as to why. There can be no debate without respectful opposition. I mean, I’ll probably still end up telling you to fuck right off, but that’s just how I converse with everyone.

No, my problem is not that people keep trying to answer the question, it is that we as a community keep asking it. Over and over and over again. Even after all these years we seem unable to move past it, and that’s a problem because this is first year – first semester – Bachelor of Arts shit. Philosophy 101. The introductory chapter of that far-too-expensive textbook.

So what question should we be asking? Let’s start with “what makes a video game good art?” and go from there.

Let me put it this way: we don’t have a video game equivalent of the film Citizen Kane, often called the perfect movie, something that was pointed out by Roger Ebert himself. But then again, how the fuck would we know? Citizen Kane is considered a masterpiece because enough people – whose opinions we as a culture consider to be expert – tell us it is a masterpiece. They tell us that, according to the technological limits of the time, the direction and photography is perfect. They tell us that the acting is incredible. They tell us the script is superb. They tell us the story is incredible. They don’t tell you that you need to enjoy the movie to recognise it as a masterpiece (I personally think it is boring as fuck), but recognise it as a masterpiece you must. They have criteria, which the film in their subjective but educated opinions meets, so it is a perfect film.

We need our own. Narrative, gameplay, mechanics, style. What boxes need to be ticked, what weight should we place on the importance of each, and does a good game necessarily need to be good art? If we don’t figure this shit out then we won’t know when that perfect game comes along, or if it already has.

So yeah, video games are art. Now let’s start arguing about what video games are good art.

Once in a lifetime laundry lessons

So I moved about a three weeks ago. It’s been a bit stressful, partly because it was shorter notice than I was expecting and partly because the only furniture I had to take with me was my bed. I’ve basically started from scratch, and honestly moving to fucking Canada (and then back to Australia twenty months on) was easier, if only because I booked the tickets months in advance and gave myself time to plan. But it’s done now and I love my little apartment. Will love it even more when my new couch finally arrives.

Funny thing though, moving. It’s full of very specific lessons that you probably will never use more than once a decade, if ever. Such as when you’re buying a washing machine.

Yeah, I bought a washing machine. A decent washing machine as well, as far as I can tell. Not one of those fancy fuckers that somehow manages to iron your clothes while it’s removing stains, but one that doesn’t seem to tear apart clothes or walk itself across the room while it’s spinning. A decent washing machine. With short pipes.

That’s the first lesson I learned. Manufacturers assume (not without reason) that the taps, outlets and waste points are going to be right next to where you’re putting the machine. So this means if said taps are more than, say, a metre away they’re not going to reach. No big deal, nothing that a trip to the hardware store can’t fix.

So I hooked it all up, plugged it all in, went for a walk back to the hardware store and picked up a clamp so the extension was properly sealed over the appropriate waste pipe (lesson number 2 learnt – always buy a clamp). Realised they’d sent me the wrong fucking washing machine. Gave the company a call, was told that I could keep it if I wanted. Did a quick Google and discovered that this was a probably a slightly better machine than what I ordered. Decided to keep it. Wondered how the bloody hell these people were still in business. Figured the answer was probably “because the internet” (lesson number 3 – the internet). Ran a quick fifteen minute cycle to clean the machine out.

Then I finally did some laundry. And that’s when I learned the big lesson. Never put whites through as your first load in a new machine.

Now I searched the inside of the washing machine before I switched it on, but I apparently missed the silicon pack hiding in the barrel. I’d run desperately low on the clean white shirts I’m required to wear to work, so in they went, and out came the murder evidence.

Seriously, they were streaked and splattered with lines and splotches of vibrant red, as if I’d been finishing each shift by bottling all the customers I didn’t like. As if I’d been out American-Psychoing hookers, hobos and coworkers without wearing the appropriate raincoat or protective smock. As if I’d seen seen the re-animated body of Jackson Pollock working a canvas with a can filled with what may or may not have been red paint, raised both arms and cried “have at it!”

Fuck my life, is what I’m trying to get at.

I needed the shirts the next day, so I pulled out the gel pack and resisted the urge to take it outside and peg it at a moving vehicle. The stain removal spray came out, the shirts went back in with my hopes and prayers. And to my surprise most of them came out passable clean. A few faint marks on the sleeves or hems, where I could hide it, but otherwise clean and white. Except for one, which still looks like Exhibit A two more washes later, and which I’ll have to soak in some proper stain remover. But that’s okay.

So life lesson learned. Never put your whites in first when you’re breaking in a new washing machine.

But when am I going to use that information again?