Monday, 28 February 2011

The Return of Tothecarp

The look which sparked a thousand FanFics
The archetypal "totheark" character has become a staple in most Slenderblogs nowadays - for EMH we have HABIT, for Tribe Twelve there is the mysterious package person, for Dark Harvest there is the Slender-impersonator...
But totheark himself is, obviously, the purist's favourite. He's up to his old tricks again with the new season, giving us a glimpse into his mind with the "Fragments" video from a couple of weeks ago - which included a torn up picture of Alex.
Yesterday he uploaded his second installment for this season: "broadcast" - 14 seconds of what appears to be the visions of a drowning person; watching their punisher from below the surface of the water. Its creepy stuff, amplified, of course, by the overlay of distorted audio. Currently, the theory is that the audio is something like "In time, you will suffer for what you did to me". Made all the more chilling due to the previous Entry of Marble Hornets depicting Alex caving Tim's head in with a rock.
This season is just hotting up.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Skyrim Gameplay Trailer

2011 is going to be an immense year for gaming. The graphics in the new ES installment are breathtaking - far beyond anything I've seen before.

Just watching in 1st person as the barbarian guy runs through the forest.


Saturday, 26 February 2011

Guild Wars 2: Norn Week Summary

So, Guild Wars 2 Norn week slopes off into the distance. What have we learned? Never piss off a snow leopard, because they don't sleep? That Jora's brother wasn't called Sanvir, or indeed; Svanvir - but Svanir? No, we haven't learned either of these things; we have learned that I am having to reconsider my choice of playing as a Sylvari due to the awesomeness of the Norn!

Day One started out with an article by David Wilson entitled "Legend and Legacy" and really set the scene for the following week. The norn are described in their typical guise - loud, proud and boisterous. As it did with Human Week - the first post of the week contained a number of audio clips (once again with a smattering of generic sounding American voice actors - see this post for details!) but this time with a shot of gruffness thrown into the mix. Just to Norn it all up a bit.
This article essentially showed lots us what we already know about Norn - most of which we learned from EotN (the importance of individual glory etc). However, we also gleaned a very important new element in their story: we'd already heard of the Sons of Svanir in previous stories; but until now we'd assumed they were a KOS enemy. Wilson's article added an interesting twist as it introduced the SoS as just Norn who are seen to have chosen the wrong path, but are tolerated and allowed to exist in the society nonetheless. One particular audio clip is from a bartender reasoning with a patron as to why he still serves Sons of Svanir. I believe that will be a very important concept in the Norn personal storyline in game.
In addition to this article, we also saw a short piece by Martin Kerstein called "Go Big or Go Home". The sole purpose of this article was to emphasise the importance of size in general Norn culture and specifically in their architecture. Kerstein stated that the two images below show a Norn female standing and posing like a sexy goddess (left) and then the same female standing at the entrance to the Wolf Lodge (right).

Day Two (and my personal fave for the week) was by Jeffrey Vaughan called "Designing and Redesigning Events". Vaughan talked us through the iterative process of creating a dynamic event in GW2. The iterative process the whole team goes through when creating the events seems at once exciting and collaborative yet also open to individual brilliance. I'm very very excited about the dynamic event system, and I must say that, alongside the cross class combinations, it's the element I am most eager to try out in game.

Vaughan went on to describe a particular dynamic event involving 4 shrines, each one dedicated to a "Spirit of the Wild" - the 4 most important being Snow Leopard, Wolf, Bear and Raven. Each shrine had a different task attributed to it (and not all hack and slash "fight off 10 rats" kinda dealios - proper events such as raiding a camp or solving Raven's riddles) sounded very interesting and I can't wait to give it a go.

Day three brought with it the update to the Norn page at As with Human Week - the info here was somewhat in layman's terms - obviously meant for those who want to know who they would probably most like to play and not much else. It did bring with it a lovely new tour around the Norn lands though:

Finally; Day Four brought more information on the spiritual life of a Norn from Ree Soesbee *swoon* called "A Spirit of Legend". Ree builds upon the existing knowledge of the Spirits of the Wild by bringing in some relatively new concepts - such as the preists who represent each animal: the "Havroun", who have the ability to pass between the normal world and the mists at will. Ree talks about the nature of the Norn's relationship with their Spirit guides, how it is not like the relationship between a Human and their Gods in that they do not represent abstract concepts such as "war" or "nature" but reflect the attributes of the spirit themselves:
Bear is the most revered of all the spirits, and she is seen as an icon of strength, insight, and wisdom. Snow Leopard is a solitary, stealthy spirit, much like her animal kin, and the norn respect the secrets she collects. Raven is the cunning trickster who loves riddles and wordplay, and Wolf is the spirit of teamwork, friendship, and family. Norn choose to follow the path of a certain Spirit of the Wild because they feel a kinship to the lessons it teaches.
Again, akin to the final article of Human week - Ree weaves a storyline into the bulk of the article. The story involves Viskar - a young boy seeking to avenge his father's death at the hand of a fearsome female Norn by the name of Grimhilde. Its well worth a read and I implore you to head over to the ANet blog and give it a go - along with all the other gubbins which has been plopped there recently!

Again, this week has obviously taken a huge amount of effort on ANet's part - and they deserve a lot of praise. Very much enjoyed it! Also very much looking forward to the coming weeks? Asura week in a fortnight's time? Perhaps?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Distilling February: A Review

Tis Friday today - and over the weekend I have friends coming over (shock horror! cleancleancleanclean), then on Monday I've got training on how to pick up and put down a patient (Did you know if you fall over in a hospital, the staff are instructed not to catch you?). Consequently, it will be March before I know it and I won't have had a chance to review February like I did last month.

So, here we go:
Topics this month have been very much on the Guild Wars horse. Its been a big month in gaming for me and I've managed to force it down your throats more than a demented Grandfather, desperately trying to buy a four year old's love with Werthers Originals. We had Human Week - which was punctuated by sentimental Hollywood determination on the part of the Human race - then came the Dervish Update, and now, just breaking its back, is Norn Week. I've mused on the nature of gaming, and talked about my favourite characters from over the years. There's also been a fair amount of ARG-y stuff going on, and I've bigged up da Old Soldiers massive, as well as introducing Tarot by Saranna into the mix.

Most Popular Post for February 2011 were:
Top 10 Search Terms for February 2011 were:
  1. marble hornets 35
  2. black ops commentators
  3. blue mace lady
  4. best black ops commentators
  5. marble hornets 33
  6. dcuo medieval style
  7. marble hornets unfiction
  8. best black ops youtube commentators
  9. good black ops commentators
  10. nudekatyperry
I get 5 or 6 people every single day finding their way here by searching for "naked katy perry" or the like. They must be so disappointed. On the other hand - free traffic for me! Maybe I should name each post after a naked celebrity! Next week: nuddy Carol from the weather on BBC news!

Video gaming time has been split as follows:
DCUO: 10%
Minecraft 10%
Black Ops 40%
Guild Wars 40%

DC Universe Online was my big purchase this month, and as you can see - I wasn't overly impressed. My review will be coming soon, but I've just not felt attached to the game. I've levelled a couple of character for 14+ and then just lost steam. I don't think I'll be renewing my subscription.
Minecraft. Yes, I caved. I bought it. The gaming sensation. You should see my sandcastle, its going to be immense. This game is every bit as good as everyone says it should be, I just want to get into the multiplayer aspect and get some real creations done - can anyone suggest a good multiplayer server?

Black Ops. This game still has a great amount of appeal, and still takes up a lot of my time. I'm on my 7th Prestige now, and have pushed my Kill/Death ratio up from 1.22 to 1.25. Not a lot, really, but its something!

Guild Wars. Old faithful. I managed to max out both Luxon and Elonian Cartographer over the past month, now a lot of my time is spent idling my time away in the Guild Hall whilst I browse the Internet, using YouTube videos as timers and every minute popping back to chug another eggnog. I'm at 3750 minutes now and plan to reach 4000 by the end of Sunday. As I say, I WILL have GWAMM by Guild Wars 2 release!

In ARG terms, there are three main games which I'm playing at the moment:

Tarot by Saranna is a blog-based ARG which I covered a few weeks ago. Its interesting and Saranna is a friendly and engaging character to play with. Its quietened down a fair amount in the past week or so, hoping it will spark up again soon. uF thread here.

Old Soldiers is still running, and faster than ever. There have been leaps and bounds from the start of this game. We've now met the ever sardonic Sigyn, Loki's partner in crime; and the tenacious Special Agent Curran - who is pursuing them. We are currently working through some really brain busters and hope to crack them over the next couple of days. uF thread here.

F.F.E.Y-T is a game which is currently running mainly through Twitter; although every indication is that tomorrow it will all kick off. I'll be posting a full summary of where we stand either Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. Currently, the PM is playing his cards close to his chest and releasing ever more cryptic clues to his intentions. Can't wait to see what he has in store *grin*. uF thread here.

Interesting blogs I've come across this month:
  •  Benny's Adventures: a wide range of topics approached in an engaging and interesting way.
  • Darkmatters: regular movie and games reviews from Matt. Funny and insightful. Brill.
  • Steam me up, Kid: I don't think I've laughed quite this much in a while.
 Typically, the shortest month of the year does feel like its flown by. I'm hoping over the next few weeks there will be lots of stuff to talk about - lots of ARGy things like the FFEYT developments, more Old Soldiers stuff and a new Marble Hornets entry to build on the epication of Entry #35 - Guild Wars updates with the 7 Hero Build coming in - more info on Guild Wars 2 with the other races weeks and PAX East - and other such banterificatious events to titillate my blogging soul.

ps. I've also jumped from 2 followers to 5! Admittedly, one of them is me - not sure how I did that. But a big thanks to Matt, Pepe, Laughing Lemon and *checks spelling* Najwa Laylah!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Wisdom of Seananners

Despite the fact that Seananners mercilessly destroys a group of players during this video - this is the most Zen six minutes I've experienced in a long while.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Age of Empires Online: Build Barracks - Infinite Huskarls

Playing Age of Empires is one of my very first PC gaming memories. Well, actually, watching my Dad play Age of Empires is one of my first PC gaming memories. Now Microsoft have unveiled their free to play MMORTSRPG version of the original series and I have to say, I'm having conflicting emotions.

AoE 2 (in particular) was a beautifully constructed and well weighted game, the campaigns were relatively long and in depth, and the skirmish mode was customisable to the extent that it never really got old. I reckon I could (and might, later tonight) go back and play this game and still thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, whilst at University (I was in a house with 3 other gamers) we would regularly sit down to be thoroughly smashed by our friend Sam who had an uncanny knack for strategy games. Now, mashing this treasured childhood memory with my current love for MMOs can only be a good thing - right?

Oh no, here comes the second emotion: the Postman Pat Effect.
Any self-respecting Brit will know of Postman Pat. A Welsh children's TV character created in the 80s, he was a mild mannered small town postman who got into all sorts of japes, always accompanied by his cat: Jess. It was typically British; reserved, laid back and low tech. Did you know that in the new series he is married? And has a HELICOPTER? Its morally wrong.
I'm worried MS will Pat-isize AoE. They'll mess it up and ruin the golden memories for me.

Anyway, having seen some of the screenshots and gameplay vids, it doesn't look too bad. A bit cartoony perhaps, but thats what kids like nowadays - isn't it? Cartoons? Boom boxes and New Kids on the Block?

MS say it will have all the appeal of an RTS with some of the MMO elements like experience points and crafting. Sounds interesting to me. Plus its free to play - with extra elements able to be bought with real world money if you want. So, worth a look imo.

Politics is Hard

I don't know anything about the Middle East but...


nope, I'm sorry, any paragraph that starts like that doesn't deserve to be finished.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Respect my (Technorati) Authoritah!

I started VeryDistilled back in November last year - and in these short few months I've grown to love the space to splurge out ideas into your faces every day. But the blogging world is vast and unwieldy; there are behemoths which when compared to my humble hole look like Titans to my gnat (Huffington Post etc), there's lingo which I'm still not 100% on (whats a Ping?) and there are resources of which I feel I could take more advantage (don't you sometimes think that the "hanging preposition" grammar rule is rather stupid? Its one of the rules I am least comfortable with).

Technorati is one of those tools. When I first started blogging I read a lot of guides about how to get noticed, how to get more visitors etc etc - most of them seemed to say the same thing: good content, guest writing and get involved in the community. To my knowledge; I've endeavored to do all three of these things! A number of sites also suggested I sign up for Technorati - so I did. I signed up, staked a claim for my blog, set up my profile and off I went.

Currently, I have absolutely no authority. I'm fine with this! I'm a new blogger and gaining that cred is going to take hard work and perseverance. Every so often I log in and check how my site is doing - got any authority yet? No? Ok!

Also, Technorati thinks the site is still called "Who Moose?"
A detail I've tried to change a number of times.
 There are 184 pages of Gaming blogs on Technorati, and of those 184 pages 146 are filled with blogs with a Gaming Authority of no more than 1. That can't be right, surely? Out of the vast expanse of the internet - it appears that most of the information capital is centered around a very select few blogs. These are blogs I rarely read - Joystiq, PS3 Blog etc. I like to click on the Gaming blog directory and go straight to the end of the list, and go back from there clicking on articles which look interesting.

I'm not 100% on how you gain "Authority" on Technorati - a number of online guides talk about how its linked to the number of links you are gaining, but they are unclear about timescale and magnitude of links etc. Recently, I was linked by Ravious at Kill Ten Rats on a blogpost about GW2 Human Week. My readership immediately went up tenfold (I've since emailed Ravious to thank him for this). But its difficult to gauge what impact that will have on my "authority" - because KTR is a fairly high traffic site, is the link worth more than from a smaller site? If I'm linked again from KTR will it have the same effect or is it diminished? Do I care? Should I care?

Ultimately, I'd like to say thanks to those who come to see my little space on a regular basis. Particularly thanks to those who have started following me (Pepe, Matt and Laughing Lemon and all of those who might be following anonymously), I really appreciate all your support and comments. I don't believe I need to rack up those extra authority points to prove I write decent content, I don't believe that the people at the end of the list are there because their posts are any less interesting than those at the top.

Ps. finally finished The Looking Glass Club - stonking ending. Left me with a decent number of questions, including: why wasn't I clever enough to solve even one of the puzzles?

Monday, 21 February 2011

ArenaNet Norn Week: Gargantu-norn!

And so the time of the norn is upon us. Unlike with human week, ANet haven't posted a schedule for the next few days - I suppose hoping we will tackle each coming blog post as if it were a wild boar shooting out of the frigid undergrowth. We'll wrestle those words to the ground, drive our eyes-daggers deep into the metaphorical neck of the article, sever the semantic jugular and sup the lore-blood that flows forth.

Bards shall sing of our conquest!

Oh, the daring audience
Had waited for norn week in silence
And when the great beast was 'pon us
They conquered the words with their mind-lance

Adaptation: The Difference between a Good Player and a Bad One

Before the explosion of online gaming, the video game world was a relatively static system. Sonic: The Hedgehog was a brilliant game; but I'm sure if we had to, there could be any number of gameplay criticisms which we could use to pick the game apart. Nevertheless; it was the finished product, it would never change so we just got on with it. With the advent of the constant change and feedback loop between players and developers which online gaming allows, gamers have come to expect flexibility in their games. If there is a bug or a glitch, players expect the developers to deal with it - and so they should.

However, in some situations I've found players to consider their game as a static medium and therefore any changes made to the game are met with hostility and fear. A good example is the CoD community's reaction to the changing of snipers in Black Ops.

In previous games (CoD4 and Modern Warfare 2 are prime examples) experienced players would use sniper rifles (ostensibly a long range weapon) in all situations because the "Aim Down Sight" (ADS) movement was so fast that they would kill most players with one shot at any range. In Black Ops, Treyarch changed the sniping mechanic so that the perks which a player could equip to accelerate the ADS did not affect sniper rifles - thereby largely eliminating the ability to "Quick Scope".
Similarly, with the update to the Dervish skills in Guild Wars, I've seen a backlash. ANet changed the Dervish from a hodgepodge of different roles (single target spiking, multitarget condition spreading, healing, runner, tank) and refined its purpose. Increasing the ability to manage energy and changing the statistics on their main weapon, the scythe, ANet were able to distil the Dervish into a pressure character, capable of spreading conditions quickly through the use of their "Flash Enchantments".

The changes made to the above games were necessary - quick scoping was a far too overpowered mechanic and it was using the sniper rifle in a way which was counter to how the developers wanted it used. Equally, the Dervish needed a sprucing up and anyone who had been to GWGuru could see how eagerly awaited (and how well received) these changes were.

However, both of these updates have been met with a bile-ridden uprising of trolls and complaints. The CoD sniping community raged that Treyarch were gimping the snipers by removing quick scoping, and they complained so much that after a month or so of the game being released Treyarch had to release a patch which somewhat went back on their changes and added a certain degree of speed to the ADS.

Similarly, I came across players on Guild Wars late last night complaining that ANet should now be dubbed "Fail-Net" (I know, I know - how do I come across these comedy whits? Where do they hide? Gosh, I couldn't imagine... under bridges, maybe?), due to their messing up of the Dervish with the new update. They were complaining that all of their old builds no longer worked and none of the new skills were half as good as the previous ones. Any argument I made against them was met with derision:

Me: "I can't see how they are worse... Avatars are permanently maintainable - have you seen Avatar of Balthazar?"
Troll: "Avatars are overrated"

Troll: "my old build doesn't work anymore - Zealous Renewal isn't the same! Its garbage. I can't maintain energy"
Me: "Ok, but you don't need as many energy management skills anymore, you have adrenaline skills to manage energy and Mysticism now reduces energy cost like Expertise. Similarly, you've got stuff like Eremite's Zeal"

Me: "Its also changed lots of skills and altered the scythe so it can't be abused by other professions"
Troll: "ANet have gimped Warriors, Rangers and Assassins - why use them now?"
Me: "Wait, so you are saying the new Dervish is better than those professions? I thought you said it was terrible?"
Troll: "Get off my bridge"

The video game is no longer an artefact stuck in its own time. It is a fluid medium and players must recognise that their game will change. It is inevitable. The real test of a player isn't "how well they shoot the gun" the record of a good player is how well they play the game - whatever that game may be. Being able to destroy people with an Intervention Sniper Rifle is a static skill - it is only indicative of your skill with the weapon and nothing more; being able to adapt to the changing climate of the game is an intrisic and fundamental advantage to the player and is a skill which you can transfer to any number of mediums.

If you want to be a good gamer; learn to adapt.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Norn Week: To the Mead Hall!

So, I've been reliably informed that Norn week is just around the corner (as in, starts Monday) - so I thought it would be worth going over the Nornish lore in preparation, much like I did for the Humans at some point last week.

The Norn are gigantic warrior people from the frozen Northern Shiverpeaks.  They value individual prowess in battle above all else, and such have little to speak of when it comes to organised society; each Norn stands relatively alone.
In terms of physical appearance, they are obviously inspired by the Nordic warriors such as the Vikings and the Normans. The men are typically broad chested, muscular and often sport manly-man beards. The women are Amazonian in stature and are equally skilled in battle. The Norn worship the spirits of the wild - choosing to focus on the strongest, bravest and wisest animals in the Shiverpeaks - as such the Norn can transform themselves into the shape of their chosen totem - either the Raven, Wolf, Snow Leopard or Bear at will to increase their ferocity in battle (as far as I'm aware; in game, a Norn will be able to transform into any of these forms and will not be restricted - but don't quote me on that!). 

Since the end of Guild Wars 1, the Norn have been ousted out of their homeland in the mountains and forced south by the arrival of the Elder Dragon Jormag. The dragon slept beneath Drakkar Lake for centuries (and if you visit there in GW1 you can see him under the ice - kinda creepy now you know who he is)**. When  Jormag emerged from his slumber he corrupted the surrounding landscape, bringing Dragonspawn of ice and snow and forcing many Norn to abandon their homes in favour of the safety of the  Southern Shiverpeaks and sometimes even further south.

During the events of GW:Eye of the North we see how Jora's brother Sanvir was corrupted by Jormag's power and turned into a half-man-half bear (half-pig) monstrosity. Eventually, Jora is forced to kill her brother to put an end to his suffering, but in the years between Sanvir's death and the events of GW2 a cult has arisen which worships the Dragon just as poor Sanvir did and is as such just as corrupted as Sanvir himself. The Son's of Sanvir threaten the Norn as much as the dragonspawn - I'm hoping we'll learn a lot more about them as Norn week progresses.

The Norn have an uneasy alliance with the Charr - through mutual respect of their militaristic abilities. Not much else is known about their allegiances, its assumed they are on reasonable terms with the other races, although I don't imagine they appreciate the arrogance of the Asura, or have much patience for the naivety of the Sylvari.

I commented on the KTR post a while back stating that it might be difficult to integrate Norn and other races' cultures in places such as Cantha and Elona when there seems to be little lore-base to do so. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see if ANet sow any of these seeds for the future in the coming week.

Overall, the Norn are a brash, confident and bloodthirsty race who can transform into a freaking bear. Who wouldn't want to play as that!? I'll be making a Norn warrior, personally - can you imagine the feeling of raw power?! I think it might actually turn me villainously mad! Muahahahahaha!

ps. I am aware that villainously isn't a word.

** 19/04/11 - it's come to my attention that the creature under Jakkar Lake isn't Jormag - it's one of his champions. Christ, that thing is huge enough, and he's just a peon!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

My Top Videogame Characters

Today Eliot over at Massively posted an article asking for our favourite NPCs from Guild Wars. This got me thinking, which characters from any game have really impacted upon my life as a gamer? I've played thousands of hours-worth of games over the years - of all genres - and there are few characters which I can name which really stick with me. Ones which populate the gaming world which exists in my brain. So, after a lot of thought (and I mean a lot, this was tough!) I've compiled a list (in no particular order); some goodies, some baddies and some guys sitting on the fence:

Sonic the Hedgehog

First and foremost, Sonic is my quintessential childhood video game character. This is kind of odd because as a character in the early games he wasn't really developed that much; and whenever the developers tried to build a story around him they right royally messed it up. Perhaps this is why he was such a good character, there was very little pretense of a story (and I'm strictly talking Sonic 1 and 2 here). The gameplay was just so much fun and the little du-dummm sound when you hit a spike with no rings left sending Sonic flying out of screen with a look of hurt surprise on his face was so disappointing that I became pretty much obsessed with the guy.
One of my earliest gaming memories is unwrapping my Sega Megadrive when I was just a wee lad; sitting on the end of my parents bed and playing it (I didn't have a telly in my room, although I think it was mainly so my dad could play it whilst lounging in bed after a night shift). Apparently, I would sit with my legs hanging over the edge and physically run in mid air to try to make the little blue guy go faster on the screen. Sonic is my childhood - and he's a billion times better than Mario any day.


Most Final Fantasy fans will cite Final Fantasy VII as the best in the series (Unless they are thick rimmed, cheque shirt wearing skinny jeaners who will insist its FFII or something. Or, oddly, if you're the Girl and you think it's FFVIII). Cloud was the silent protagonist; the deeply troubled, deeply pixelated, blonde super-soldier was my company through one of my first RPG forays. What was compelling about Cloud was that to my understanding (and I was still pretty young at this time, probably 14ish) he was a bit of a dunce, he had little understanding of girls, could do little to argue back and was at the mercy of whatever terrible things the army and Shinra had instilled into him. Yet he trudged along, uncovering deeply disturbing backstories to his past and his family. He was a trooper dammit!
At the time of playing I was quite confused about his relationship with Sephiroth, Zack and Jenova. For a long time (until a recent play through) I had thought that Jenova was somehow Cloud's Mother, and Sephiroth his brother - kinda shows how easily even I was duped by Sephiroth!
When I was playing FFVII as a child, I got incredibly caught up in the story - I was terrified of Jenova as some sort of indescribable Eldritch Horror, and equally scared of Sephiroth as a ruthless madman. Cloud was my guide through this troubling game, across immense and beautiful landscapes, and through complex relationships.


Finally, I hear you say - one from after the millennium! I know, I know... and GLaDoS truly deserves to be in this list. She is the epitome of evil. Deceitful, merciless, witty, omnipotent and down right insane - she is the main antagonist of Portal.
GLaDOS stands for Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System, in the early parts of the game she acts as your guide and tester for a number of portal challenges. As the game wears on, you notice her little glitches become gradually more and more manic; you can break into back parts of the facility and see warning messages from previous testees: "The cake is a lie!" and she continuously promises you a party if you continue to follow her instructions. Ultimately, GLaDOS does invite you to the final party; where there will be cake. Unfortunately, she seems to be holding the party at the bottom of a furnace, and as you slowly descend towards a rather grisly end it becomes apparent that she isn't the friendly robot-buddy you probably never thought she was.
Without the brilliant writing and the expert voice work by Ellen McLain that the Valve team employed with GLaDOS she could have easily been just another antagonist; just another insane robot bent on destruction. Instead she becomes a lurking nightmare, constantly trying to fry you, dissolve you in acid or blow you up with missiles. She is a haunting apparition, an all seeing eye which can at once make you laugh and the next forcing you to "euthanize" your companion cube in the "emergency intelligence incinerator". She is pure evil - and she's got a lovely singing voice.


With all the characters in Guild Wars, you might think it strange that I choose a henchman as my favourite character from the first game. However, Mhenlo is one of the very few characters who has been central to the plot from day 1 (except for Gwen, but who wants to choose her?). I believe that in the series he is the paragon of good: where Rurik was a bit of a douche, Kormir almost caused the Nightfall, Togo gets himself killed, Keiran has a hissy fit and Gwen's a bitch - he's always just and true, faithful and hard working (I mean, he even runs WoH in EotN; making him a decent healer!).
When I have Mhenlo with me on missions (whether as a henchmen or an NPC ally) I know I've got a decent monk at my back, even if he does lag a bit behind in Vizunah Sq.
I also sympathise with him. He's just a strapping young man in his prime, and when he travels to Cantha with Cynn he gets nothing but greif just because he has a couple of female friends.. whu-tssssh! I can't imagine what it must be like when they get back to their top floor flat at Lion's Arch - "Honey, do you think we could have drake kebobs for tea tonight?" "NO! *RODGORT'S INVOCATION!!!"*" "ok...".
I hope that when GW2 comes around, Mhenlo is suitably honoured and remembered as a constant and unfailing companion.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Marble Hornets #34/35 - Aka - Why I need new Trousers

I haven't done a Marble Hornets post in a while, so I thought I'd update because things just hit the effin' roof.
Entry #34 sees us follow Jay to the return address for the package he received at the end of Season one. It seems to lead him to an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere - other than some rubble and bad graffiti, theres absolutely nothing to see. Until of course, you reach Entry #35.

Entry.Freaking.Thirty.Five. Watch it now. I demand it!

Now, without spoiling it for those not already clued up on what happened - what are the implications of this? How will Jay react to this news? Also, where the hell is Jay at the moment anyway?!

I'm still reeling, and so is the Marble Hornets community. Less than a day the thread on unFiction has almost 500 posts and is nearing 30 pages as I type this. As Jay says at the end of the video. This changes... everything.

ps. oh yeah and theres the TTA video "Fragments" with a cut up picture of Alex - but I guess we won't be seeing many of them anymore, right? WRONG! You forget, the contents of #35 are in the past. We have 2 options: TTA is someone else is still posting (and Tim is dead - although I suppose he could still be alive) or TTA was Tim all along and he somehow survived Alex's rock of doom.

Can Video Games be Art?

Over the past few days I've come across a number of blogs which have broached this subject. Its the kind of argument which brings up a vitriolic rage in many a gamer and comments on the subject can go into the thousands (see Roger Ebert's post here). I plant my feet firmly in the "games can be art" camp.

Unfortunately, it comes down to that all-to-often carted out stumbling block - definition. I view art as an interpretation. RightGamer at DominantGenes (RG falls firmly on the opposite side to me, agreeing with Roger Ebert in his assertion that games can never be art) states the following:
Professional painters, musicians and cartoonists are all considered artists regardless of the quality of their pieces and no one would try to dispute this. Now professional game designers and developers are not generally associated with being artists but if the final product truly is a piece of art like some gamers claim, then why not label these people as such?
I argued that whilst these above named professions are largely considered artists, I cannot make the same sweeping generalisation about their work. Justin Bieber is most definitely a musical artist, but I would not say his work is art. *Swoosh* That was the sound of a thousand angry tweenage girls all partaking in a sharp intake of breath. I'm also fairly sure that there are a significant number of people who would not consider Tracey Emin's work art, or Jackson Pollock, or Michael Jackson, or Banksy, etc etc. What it boils down to, is that art is an interpretation.

Its a wishy-washy Postmodern argument I know, and as Social Scientist I'm loathed to bring it out. But when applied to a medium such as art it is hard to ignore. I don't think you could cite a piece of work which can be universally and objectively called "art" - there is no essential element which exists which pushes a piece from "object" to "art". I could rant on about signifier and signified, perception, consensus, habitus, Bourdieu, Foucault, Baudrillard, Magritte, ceci n'est pas une pipe... But ultimately you cannot ignore that each and every image we see in this world, however critically acclaimed, is seen through our eyes, and each and every image is then interpreted by our brains - it is changed and twisted and then out pops a conclusion. Whether that conclusion is that it's art or not is not objective, it is wholly subjective.

Of course, that means that Ebert and RG are entirely correct - to them gaming cannot be art - their definition doesn't allow it. But to me, gaming can be and is art - Portal is art, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is art, Half-Life 2 is art, heck... Final Fantasy VII is art - these games speak to me on a visceral level, they evoke emotions through characters and visuals which far outstrip the vast majority of paintings and films.

The other option is that art has some existence which is external to those actors involved in its creation. That it somehow pre-exists interpretation. I just cannot bend my brain to consider that there exists anything in our society which has not been created by the people who exist and have existed within it. There is no society external to the actor. So, there is no art external to the actor. Art is something which sits deep within our soul; it is for no-one else to decide on our behalf.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Batman: Arkham City Miniseries to Accompany Game

I said back in this post way back in 2010 that Batman: Arkham City is one of my most anticipated games for this year. Browsing through some blogs I came across James at AnimeSentinel who has posted about how there will be a six part miniseries of comics to go with the game. The miniseries will tell the story of the time between the end of Arkham Asylum and the start of the new game.

"No.more.Bieber"... "Aw but!"... "No buts!"

Following the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum; Quincy Sharp (the one time guv' of the asylum and now Mayor of Gotham) has shut down the institution and widened its influence to a large fortified chunk of the city. The inmates are now free to roam the area as long as they don't try to escape. Oddly, Sharp has employed a character named "Dr Hugo Strange" to run the whole joint. 'Cus that sounds like a good idea... Come on Q, think it through! He's called Hugo STRANGE! Jeees... get genre savvy mate.

Anyway, seems as if the first set of two issues of the miniseries will be available in May. I'll be ordering my copy asap. Jump over the AnimeSentinel for more details.
Oops. clumsy.

New Eyes on Old Soldiers

Just thought I'd take a second to note how the epiphany of just one person can make a big difference in the Alternative Reality Gaming world. Hwoami came into the Old Soldiers game a little while after we'd all been completely stumped by the original cipher sent to ARGnet - we'd come to the conclusion that it was some kind of double columnar transposition cipher, but this would require two separate keywords to decipher and we'd exhausted all possibilities. With a fresh set of eyes he was able to effectively intellectually-bitchslap the rest of us by realising that these two images:

Could be overlain to highlight a specific part of the cipher page:

He has successfully won himself about 27x internets (that's all his internets for the next 3.4 years) for this. Congrats.

You can continue to follow our flounderings at unFiction here.

ps. reaching the end of The Looking Glass Club; I am beginning to think this book is far cleverer than I am.


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