Audiobook Generation
July 10th, 2012 by

I bloody love audiobooks. This is definitely not a game-related post, as I cannot develop games while listening. What I can do, however, is cook, or wash up, or walk about London, or sit around waiting to meet my invariably late friends. Audiobooks are superb for making dull things interesting; when I have a good novel on the go, I actively seek opportunities to listen to it, until every chore in the house is finished. Since I began, almost 2 years ago, I have mauled them, going through about 1 per week on average. This, for the record, is twice as fast as Audible will sell them to me. Oh well, their loss.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson
This series is a great example of the advantages of audiobooks. For one, the actors were drilled into correctly pronouncing the Swedish names, meaning you can talk about the book to Scandinavian friends and sound like you know your stuff. On top of that, the book begins very slowly – but in audio format, you just get through it and into the action the series is famous for. I don’t know if I would have read past the first 50 pages myself; luckily, Saul Reichlin read it for me!

4. Lolita – Vladimir Nabakov
Read by Jeremy Irons, who perfectly captures the forceful, unsettling air of Humbert Humbert. A criticism I have heard of audiobooks is that you do not get to imagine your own voices, and there is perhaps validity to that. However, Jeremy Irons can’t do a young girl’s voice for toffee, and I found that I was able to overwrite his manly depth with my own interpretation of what a 12 year old might sound like. The book itself is highly potent, and difficult to stop thinking about.

3. Life And Laughing – Michael McIntyre
Who knew Michael was so interesting? Hearing him deliver his own jokes is a pleasure, and on top of that, some things hear don’t appear in the print copy. We hear him fumble words, and ad-lib through his mistakes, or joke about how he has to read it to us. That sort of thing can’t be matched in paperback.

2. Harry Potter – J. K. Rowling (as read by Jim Dale)
My favourite thing about audiobooks is how they are tied to real world memories. I can remember where I was during particular plot moments, and it helps me look back to where I was 18 months ago. (I was vacuum-fighting, fyi.) I have a famously bad long-term memory, so this is a genuine pleasure of the format, and it is strongest in a series so often referenced. As an aside, I listened to Jim Dale, who speaks around 2 hours faster than Stephen Fry on the longer books. However, if you are a Stephen fan, that is fine too, they are both brilliant.

1. John Dies At The End – David Wong
I didn’t realise when I started, but listening to this book was like gambling; every now and then, a coy sentence would slip in that would make me burst into hysterics. If I were walking around in the real world (IRL), all of a sudden strangers would see me start laughing, and back away slowly.
I found out later, David Wong is a senior editor at Cracked.com. That explains why he’s so damn good at this.

Also recommended:
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Colins
At Home – Bill Bryson

Not recommended:
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand. I listened to 27 hours of this philosophical masturbation before encountering the valley where entrepreneurs have a perfect society in which philanthropy somehow fills the void left by not paying taxes. I couldn’t stomach the thought of 24 more hours of that.

TL;DR: Don’t worry, from next week I will have a lot more game-related posts! Exciting times are abound in my programming life.



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The Grammar Police
April 28th, 2012 by

grammar nazis

I saw yet another comment thread descend into minor quibbles about grammar. I have come to the conclusion that I just… don’t care about it. If someone can’t spell, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid, it just means they can’t spell.

On another topic; exam season. I probably do have time to update the blog, what with the time I waste not revising. But regardless. Blogging properly resumes on the 28th.



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A Physical Connection
March 13th, 2012 by

I love getting physical games. Tearing off the plastic wrap, piggling off all the stickers the shop adorned. Flicking through the manual, even though the tutorial will cover everything.

Most of all, I love how it can never be taken away. When Viewtiful Joe is an historical artefact*, and Pokemon Misty-Squid-Colour is released, I will still have my cartridges and discs of the originals, long after the new consoles have given up compatability. Or, if I decide to burn everything I own and change my identity and start a new life, I can do that too. Carts give me freedom. Half the fun is poking through the bits, fondling the physicality of it, and then putting it on a shelf so my visitors can bow before the games I have decimated. If I dislike a game enough, I can literally blend it.

I will never, ever pay the same to download a game as I could on eBay to get a second hand copy. I hate the idea of locking games to a console, as Nintendo so proudly do, and I distrust services that require DRM. Have you seen my internet connection? Our phone line is attached to the exchange with sticky-tape. Telling me that I must be connected to the internet is telling me that I am only allowed to play your game at 2am, three nights a week.

And this, friends, is why I am not buying a PlayStation Vita. I got a 3DS to enjoy backwards compatability with the DS (which I have never owned) – and since then I have played some incredible DS titles. In contrast, the only way the Vita can play PSP games (which I also never owned) is by downloading them on the store, paying the publishers for games produced years ago.**

This deprives me of all my technophilic joys. There is no eBay bidding, parcel opening, box stroking fun.

Which, frankly, is pretty much the only reason I own as many games as I do.

* Google wouldn’t tell me whether it should be “an historical” or “a historical” artefact. So I decided to be pretentious.
** I’m sure there’s an argument that I should buy a PSP for PSP games. Or that I should use my 3DS for 3DS games and a Vita for Vita games. But you would be mistaken.



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Pretty Bums
February 28th, 2012 by

Women have pretty bums. If I must stare at one for twelve hours, surely I would much rather it were a pretty one.

That is the usual logic when a developer has a female main character in a videogame. Nay, it applies to a majority of female characters that feature in games at all; whatever our escapist fantasy may be, there will be beautiful women.

I was dubious when approaching this topic, as every side is lined with spikes: too flippant and it is sexism; too far the other way and you are hampering creativity. But I honestly think it is worth looking at, and not just to scold developers who surround macho main characters with supermodels in fetish clothes.

Chell from Portal is notable for being one of very few female characters who does not have her cleavage slapped on the box art. Not that she is any ugly duckling.

However, she is not objectified. The game is not sold based on her appearance, and at no point does she have sex with anyone. (Because we all know, girls who have sex must be objects.)

Chell is only worth mentioning because she is one of few women to lead a game. Even when allowing Bayonetta and other girls that make Christina Hendricks look flat chested, the majority of games focus on a bloke. And some would have us believe this is a bad thing. (Incidentally, absurd body shapes are rampant throughout fictional characters, whatever the gender. That isn’t sexism, just bad writing.)

Men tend to write novels about men. Women tend to write novels about women. In the videogame industry, most writers, directors, and executives are male, and therefore they tend to write male characters as the heroes.

I have heard it said a thousand times that there should be more women in these roles. Why? Why is it that we must force more women into these roles?

Studies show women are more likely to work part-time and take time off for family commitments. If they marry, women are more likely to work from home or at minimum take more maternity leave than men. Career-wise, women are less ambitious – and this is not a bad thing. The outcome is that proportionally more men occupy the high-pressure roles and spend less time with their family. And so, more men are in control, and choose by default to make the main character male.

The idea that the directors/executives in the industry should be 50/50 between the sexes is preposterous. Placing limitations will be sexist; if there are 10 dedicated, talented women for every 30 dedicated, talented men, I would expect the ratio to be 1:3.

Some have suggested that we must encourage more women to work in the games industry. (And encourage them to be ambitious once there.) I find this concept curious – it implies that the games industry is better than whatever else the woman may wish to do. Why is working in the games industry better than staying at home raising children? The idea that we should get women out of the home strikes me as rude to those who choose to stay at home. If family are more important to the individual, then that is where the individual may wish to go.

This whole post comes from hearing far too many feminist writers call the games industry sexist because of the high ratios of male directors and male characters. Nay, I say. If more women wished to work in the games industry, and put careers first, and climb the ladder, then the option must be open. Generally, the option is open, and therefore the games industry is not sexist as a whole.

There are more men than women in games because it is not a sexist industry, focusing on talent rather than gender. We do not need to force women to become more ambitious within the industry.

And that, friends, is why most games focus on some bloke shooting things.

* The only footnote is that some companies discriminate against women who appear likely to get pregnant and take maternity leave. I can see both sides of why this is detrimental to both women and the companies, and I wish there was a better solution. Until then, this is the awkward area where my argument falls.

I would love to hear some counter-opinions. Do you think the industry is sexist?



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Subcard to the Heart
February 21st, 2012 by

There is a point in your life when you do something you regret; you might let your fish die, or kill your husband’s mistress, or become a regular at Subway. Unfortunately, I have succumbed to the latter.

It started at the beginning of the year, when I discovered how expensive London is. I have grown up paying £2 for lovingly made sandwiches of fair size and taste. (If you visit Truro, find Warren’s by the Cathedral!) Subway had never quite been worth it in my home town – the extra pennies are not justified when the cheese tastes worse than the plastic bag it comes in. However, in London, there is no Warren’s, and every meal costs you more for less. And that was when it started.

Soon, the pretty salad girl smiled at me when she saw me. She would ask how I was. I got a ‘Subcard’, which gives you a free Sub if you spend £50 instore. I ate my free Sub.

Sometimes days would go by, but I would always find myself drawn back to the little Subway at the end of the road. (Originally my brain wrote ‘end of the world’ – perhaps that says too much about my London existence.) It is worse than an addiction simply because it isn’t an addiction – I would find this so much easier if I could just say “I’m addicted”. But I’m not, and I keep returning… My problem is, I think I like Subway.

Yesterday I was miles away, and thought I would try the Subway there. They splatted half a scoop of meat onto the bread, threw a couple of leaves on, and declared the Sub complete. My heart broke; I discovered I do not like Subway. I like my Subway, and the pretty salad girl.

PS: I need to get out more.
PPS: This footnote has the HTML tag “<Sub>”. That made me smile.



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