Author Archives: Pete Davison

About Pete Davison

Former news editor for Gamer Network's USgamer.net, #oneaday blogger, Japanese games enthusiast and a founder member of the Squadron of Shame. I am also English, and feel a brotherly bond towards Miles Edgeworth.

1717: The Story of Your Mail Archive

During a quiet — and, I won’t lie, somewhat bored — moment today, I decided to take a look back in my GMail archive and see exactly when I started using that account. I’ve had a number of different email accounts over the years, some of which have lasted longer than others, but I had a feeling that GMail had stuck with me longer than anything else. (Except perhaps for Hotmail, which I keep around to sign up for things I don’t want to sign up my “real” email address for. And for my Xbox Live account, because in Microsoft’s wisdom, they don’t allow you to change the email address associated with your account, meaning I was forever stuck with it, not that email really matters to Xbox Live anyway.)

Sure enough, my GMail account has been with me for somewhere in the region of four or five years or so. Prior to that, I made use of a .mac/MobileMe/iCloud account (the name has changed several times since I opened the account in 2007 as part of my employment at the Apple Store), and before that, I was using Yahoo. Prior to that, I was using various different proprietary addresses that I got with Internet service providers, and since I moved every year while I was at university — and quite frequently thereafter, too — I changed email address a lot, much to, as I recall, the annoyance of my brother, who never knew which address to contact me on.

Anyway, I digress; my GMail account hails from 2009, and it was interesting to take a look back to what was going on in my life around then. I can use this blog for that too, of course — and often do, as narcissistic as that might sound — but looking back at past emails is a little different because it’s not just a record of my thoughts spilling out on the page as I saw fit to express them; it’s my thoughts spilling out on the page as I saw fit to express them to another specific person.

As those of you who have been reading this blog for a few years will recall, 2010 was Not A Good Year for Pete, and indeed the early pages of my email history reflect that to a certain degree.

Before that, however, was an email from a former colleague containing nothing but this image:

photoIt still makes me giggle.

Anyway, the first few pages of my GMail are actually made up of messages imported from my .mac/MobileMe account, which I was running in parallel with GMail for some time (and indeed still am, though I don’t really use it any more). In those early messages, I can see the first time I was hired as a professional games journalist — Joey Davidson and Brad Hilderbrand were good enough to take a chance on me and hire me for the now sadly defunct Kombo.com. The pay was crap, but it was something at a time when I had nothing else, and I got something far more valuable out of that experience: friends. People I still speak to today — indeed, just today I had a quick chat with Joey via instant message, which was nice.

Around that time, I was preparing for a trip to PAX East in Boston, at which I’d have the opportunity to meet a number of members of the Squadron of Shame for the first time — and to catch up with some I’d had the pleasure of meeting once or twice before. I was also looking forward to the opportunity to cover a big event as a journalist, though sadly I wasn’t enough of a bigshot at this time to be able to score a proper press badge, and as such had to write about things at the show largely from a consumer perspective.

Shortly after my return from PAX East, you may recall that my life fell to pieces, and you can see almost the exact moment this happens, since there’s a sudden flurry of sympathetic messages from friends and family alike. Thus began a very dark period in my life, and one that still, I must admit, brings tears to my eyes to relive, even when looking at it through the cold, clinical view of plain text.

So let’s not do that.

Instead, fast forward a bunch of pages and I was very surprised to spot an email from a familiar name: Shahid Ahmad, who is now best known as Sony’s most enthusiastic employee, and champion of the Vita. Shahid apparently commented on one of my posts somewhere — I can’t quite tell where from the email exchange, but it was a post about the game Mr. Robot, which I recall enjoying a great deal — and we’d evidently had a discussion about Chimera, a game which he made back in the days of the Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64 home computers, and which he has trying to remake ever since. (He was talking about a remake a while back on Twitter; apparently, he’s been trying to make this happen since at least 2010.)

Somewhere around the 37,000 email mark (still in 2010), I seemingly start using GMail a bit more for communicating with people and signing up for things. There’s still a bunch of stuff coming in via MobileMe, but messages without that tag are starting to appear more and more.

Around the 35,000 email mark, I start working for GamePro. Of all the sites I’ve worked on over the years, I think GamePro is the one that I think of most fondly and am most proud of. I feel I struck a good balance with my news coverage, and there was tangible proof that I — specifically me — was responsible for bringing in a significant amount of new traffic with the work I was doing. Unfortunately, this seemingly wasn’t enough to prevent the site from being unceremoniously wiped off the face of the planet some time later, but it was nice to know at least.

Aside from my own developments, it’s also interesting to see what names I still know today have been up to over the years. It’s nice to see Tom Ohle of Evolve PR’s name crop up a bunch of times, for example — that man’s one of the hardest-working PR folks in the business, and also someone who always put across the impression of genuinely believing in the games he was representing — as well as folks I’ve worked alongside moving from outlet to outlet.

And then, of course, there’s the first appearance of Andie in my Twitter direct messages (Twitter’s email notifications used to look a whole lot different!) and… well, we all know what happened there. (She’s sleeping upstairs in the house we own together right now as I write this.)

So anyway. Having rambled on for over a thousand words about nothing more than my email archives, I think I’m ready to call that a night. It’s been an interesting trip back along memory lane — not always pleasant or comfortable, but certainly interesting — but I think I’ve sated my curiosity for now, at least.

So what’s the earliest email you still have, dear reader?

 

1716: Desperately Seeking Information

Something a friend of mine said in an online chat earlier made me think about the way we, humanity, use the Internet on a daily basis — and particularly the role that social media plays in many of our lives.

He said that as human beings, we crave information. It doesn’t matter what that information is, we’re just hungry for it; forever consuming, devouring any input we can get our brains wrapped around, however mundane, stupid or fury-inducing.

After he said this, I took stock of my online existence since leaving Facebook and Twitter behind. I still haven’t looked at the former at all; I’ve peeped at the latter once or twice to see if I had any mentions or direct messages — I didn’t (apart from a share of this post by a dentist who clearly hadn’t read it at all), which, I won’t lie, smarted a bit, but I’ll live.

What I have done, however, is almost immediately replace them with other things. I was always intending to make more active use of the Squadron of Shame forums, for example, but they have become my primary go-to hangout online — which makes their occasional lack of activity a little frustrating. (Come join up and talk in a chin-strokey fashion about games!) But that’s not all I’m doing: instead of relying on what Twitter is talking about for a picture of the day’s news — a practice which tends to give you an inherently biased picture of what is going on, due to the political tendencies of some of Twitter’s most vocal users — I’m specifically seeking out sites like the BBC and the Guardian to read about stories at my own pace. (I still skip over anything that just offers me a video and no text, though; fuck video.)

I am not, however, reading a great deal about video games. This is less about losing interest in them — which my marathon Xillia 2 session this evening will emphatically attest that I am not – and more about feeling there aren’t really any sites out there that speak to (or for) me. I’ve discussed this with a number of people with whom I share similar proclivities, and many of us tend to feel the same way: while the ad-based revenue model for these sites continues to be in place, we’re never going to see the sort of coverage that we’re interested in seeing. Those sites that do try different things — like Polygon with its now-defunct features section, or 1up with its community-driven nature — end up either closing down altogether, or at the very least shedding the things that made them unique and becoming yet another identikit site of daily triple-A and indie darling news churn.

But I digress. The point is, the information void I left when I cut social media out of my life was immediately filled by something else. It’s a compulsion; an uncontrollable urge. As a human being, my brain demands information; it needs input. More input.

I’m not entirely sure if that’s a healthy compulsion, since as I noted above, the 21st-century brain doesn’t appear to be all that selective about what it wants to absorb into itself. Perhaps if the brain craved nothing but new knowledge — information that would allow it to let its host function as a better human being — that might be absolutely fine.

But no. The 21st century brain is interested in menstrual menaces and megachile perihirta (commonly known as the Western leafcutting bee); in cats drinking from squirt bottles and… oh, you get the idea.

The human brain is a mysterious thing. Whatever you may feel about the information you stuff into it on a daily basis, though, I think we can probably all agree that the Internet has had a profound impact on how we perceive, seek out and consume information these days, hmm?

1715: Twintania Downed, Again (and Again)

This evening it was my great pleasure to be a part of the inaugural Giant Bomb/Loose Cannons (aka GBomb/LoCo) raid party in Final Fantasy XIV – what I hope will be the first of many joint adventures that take place on a UK timezone-friendly schedule.

Since a couple of members of LoCo hadn’t yet cleared The Binding Coil of Bahamut, Turn 5 — something of a “benchmark” for how well groups work together — we had decided that, come hell or high water, we were going to get a group of some description together and attempt it.

We’d tried this once before, filling out the extra spots in the party using Final Fantasy XIV’s matchmaking Duty Finder system, but the downside of this is that you never know who you’re going to get — even in challenging content like Turn 5, there’s always a possibility you’ll get someone who is just looking for a quick and easy clear with no fuss, and who might not have patience to deal with people who are hoping to learn the fight and practice it. Indeed, this happened to us; the first time we got to

[Editor's note: At this point, Pete was called away for another hasty attempt at Turn 5, this time with Andie in tow. It was a successful attempt, as was, I'm sure you've already guessed, the one about to be discussed.]

Ahem. Sorry. Anyway. As I was saying, the first time we got to try it together, we were lumbered with one of these people, who got all huffy when someone got hit by Twintania’s notorious “divebomb” mechanic — one of the more difficult attacks in the game to dodge and otherwise deal with. Eventually, when Huffy McHuffypants left in a huff, we had to abandon our attempt as, since Turn 5 is fairly old content now, it can sometimes be difficult to get people in there unless you pre-form a group before you start.

But anyway. Tonight we assembled a crack team of GBomb and LoCo types, including a couple who had never cleared it before and a few — including me — who had. Then we jumped in.

Our first attempt went reasonably well. Twintania’s companions, the three Scourges of Meracydia, all fell to our onslaught pretty quickly, and we handled Twintania’s barrage of fireballs and conflagrations without breaking a sweat, since we were all, by now, pretty familiar with how this part of the fight worked. When Twintania swept off into the inky blackness high above the right hand of Bahamut, we dove into the nearby ditch between the fallen god’s fingertips and waited for the angry dragon to show her face again.

Dive, and dodge; dive, and dodge; dive, and dodge; the first set of Divebombs passed without incident, and Twintania’s snake-like guardians Hygieia and Asclepius showed up. We dealt some damage to the two Hygieia and then focused our attention on Asclepius again; then it was time for another set of Divebombs.

Dive, and dodge; dive, and dodge; dive, and dodge; the second set passed without worry, and one of our two paladins dragged the annoyed Asclepius and Hygieia across the right hand of Bahamut to join their two companions that had just showed up.

I used the party’s collected energy to unleash my Limit Break, calling down a shower of meteors onto the heads of the snakes, killing two of them outright and seriously wounding the rest of them. As the Hygieia died, they increased Asclepius’ vulnerability bit by bit, until we were all eventually dealing about twice the normal damage we usually did. It wasn’t long before Asclepius fell to that onslaught, at which point we dove into one of Twintania’s dropped Neurolinks, the collars that the ancient Allagans had used to control her, and which had gradually been falling from her neck one by one as the fight progressed.

At this point, things fell apart somewhat. Twintania summoned her deadly Dreadknights, and it wasn’t long before they ripped through several of our number; the rest fell to her powerful Twisters attack. But not to be deterred, we picked ourselves up and tried again.

Once again, the Scourges fell, and we set to work on Twintania. The fireballs and conflagrations proved little challenge for us, and we deftly avoided the first set of Divebombs. We got a little too enthusiastic on the Hygieia this time around, however; one died before we got out of the ditch and the other was nearly shuffling off the mortal coil as we pulled them together for another Starstorm summoned by my command over black magic.

This time, the furious Twintania didn’t faze us. While our lead paladin kept the attention of the giant dragon, the other made sure the Dreadknights didn’t reach their destination, battering them repeatedly with their shield while I pelted them with freezing ice, which slowed their movements when they weren’t stunned. A Dreadknight would fall, then we would move as one to sidestep Twintania’s next Twisters; then another Dreadknight would fall, and we’d once again hop neatly out of the way of Twisters.

Finally, the weakening Twintania resorted to the same attacks her Scourges had used on us at the start of the fight; spitting huge gobs of flaming matter all over the battlefield, creating a Liquid Hell. We’d run to avoid these, but by this point our victory was all but assured; sure enough, not long after that, the beast fell to our relentless assault, and we were triumphant.

I love this fight. It’s no longer the most difficult thing in the game, but it’s a demanding battle that ensures everyone involved is on their toes and sets expectations appropriately high for the Second Coil of Bahamut (and the Third Coil of Bahamut, which is coming soon). It also bodes well for the group of us who are planning to tackle some of this content on a regular basis; clearing Turn 5 on a second attempt is good going by anyone’s standards, and we repeated the situation almost exactly when a few hours later Andie wanted to give it a go with us, too. We seemingly work well as a team — even without using voice chat to coordinate what we were doing — and our own individual skill levels were apparently well up to the challenge Twintania offered.

So what’s next? That remains to be seen; all being well, we’ll be giving the first Turn of Second Coil a go this week. I’ve tried this battle once before and it appears to be somewhat demanding in the same way as Turn 5 is; you need to pay close attention to what is going on, and react quickly and calmly to the things that are happening around you. One mistake can leave you lying dead on the floor at a moment’s notice — and potentially kill off the entire party. I have faith that we can rise to this challenge, though, and I’m looking forward to giving it a shot.

1714: Arachnid Dentistry

I had an enjoyably bizarre dream last night, or possibly early this morning — I’m not quite sure. It doesn’t really matter when it occurred; what does matter, however, is that it was most peculiar, and has somehow stayed in my memory for most of the day rather than, as dreams are often wont to do, dissipating in a puff of imagination shortly after getting up.

I will preface this by saying there was no poo involved in this dream. I’m sure you’re devastated.

Anyway. The main premise of the dream was that Andie and I were living somewhere that was not the house we now own between us. Instead, we were the proud owners of what appeared to be a rather house-like flat that was actually inside another building. In other words, the flat itself was multi-level, like a house, but its “front door” actually opened into a corridor of the building which contained it rather than onto the street. I recall commenting on this to dream-Andie, noting that she had been adamant about getting a house rather than a flat (she had; it was one of our few “musts” when looking for a new place) and that we’d somehow ended up with a flat instead.

For whatever reason, I elected to step outside what was seemingly our newly acquired flat to go and explore the rest of the building. I followed the corridor from our front door through another set of doors, and discovered that just a little way down from where we now lived was a dental surgery. This struck me as a little odd at the time, but I just shrugged it off. We lived next door to a dentist, and that was just how it was.

I’m not sure how long I walked for, but the building itself appeared to be rather large, with different areas fitted out in noticeably different manners. Lower down — apparently our flat was quite high up in it — the building appeared like a classy hotel, with ostentatious decor and lush carpets; higher up, meanwhile, the drab walls, endless fire doors and strangely arranged staircases called to mind some form of student accommodation I’d spent time in in the past. It wasn’t the halls of residence I lived in; I have a feeling it was either some friends’ halls, or possibly a sixth form college where I stayed for a residential music course while I was a teen. Either way, it was somewhat out of place when compared to the richly decorated lower levels.

At some point, I got lost. I found myself somewhere on the lower floors in what appeared to be the headquarters of an affluent, successful company — all leather sofas, marble-effect (or possibly just marble) tabletops and shiny floors. Whichever way I turned, I couldn’t seem to find the way back where I came from, and eventually ended up on the street. Apparently this building was in Toronto, somewhere near where my friends Mark and Lynette used to live, as I recognised the street corner on which I found myself.

I went back into the building and found that this time I was able to successfully navigate my way back into the hotel lobby-like area, up the stairs into the dorm-like area, and eventually past the dentist back to our flat.

When I came back in, I’m not sure if the arrangement was different or if I just hadn’t noticed it before, but bizarrely, there was a shower room right by the living room. Even more strangely, there was a hole in its wall where bricks had seemingly just been removed, leaving an open “window” between the shower and the living room.

For some reason, I opened the door of the shower room and lay down on the floor. There was a computer keyboard in front of me. I started typing, and as I did so, hundreds of small spiders started emerging from the shower’s plughole, then crawling into the corner of the room and disappearing. As I continued to type, the spiders kept coming, but they always seemed to be going the same way. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and I didn’t really want to know. All I knew was that I needed to keep typing and typing and typing and typing… you know, much like I’m doing right now.

Then I woke up in a state of some confusion that was swiftly followed by disappointment that I was probably too late to go out and get a McDonald’s breakfast.

Explain that one, then.

1713: Yep, You Should Play Ethan Carter

I must confess I hadn’t been paying all that much attention to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. I knew several people whose opinions I trusted were excited about it, however, so I was always intending to give it a try. And with it releasing this week and Andie out of town for the weekend, I figured tonight would be the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

I completed it, as it happens — it’s not a terribly long game, but it is a very worthwhile experience that I recommend you indulge in, preferably in a single sitting if you have three or four hours to spare.

But what is it? I hear you ask. Well, it’s… Hmm. Sort of hard to describe, in one sense, but pretty simple in another.

Its developers describe it as a non-violent investigation game in which you attempt to track down clues as to the whereabouts of the titular character, a young boy who wrote a letter to the protagonist — the rather wonderfully named Paul Prospero — prior to the eventd of the game beginning.

Now, the description of “non-violent” usually points to an example of those games that are often derided (or sometimes celebrated) as “walking simulators” — games that are, in effect, little more than theme park attractions in which you wander around and have a story delivered to you through various means. Notable recent examples include Dear Esther — which kind of invented the “genre”, if you can call it that; Gone Home, which famously got branded “Not a Game” upon the introduction of Steam’s tagging system; and The Stanley Parable, which no-one seemed to mind too much because it was amusing.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is not quite in the same wheelhouse as these games. Rather than funnelling you down a specific path, Ethan Carter offers a certain degree of freedom — though there’s still a natural order you’ll come across the game’s main… bits.

It’s these “bits” that distinguish Ethan Carter from your common-or-garden walking simulator, however, because each involves a degree of puzzle-solving, deduction and thorough investigation of the environment to succeed. And in order to see the game’s story through to its conclusion, you’ll need to succeed in all of these little mini-adventures scattered across the map.

The exact form of these mini-episodes varies with each one: some require you to simply find a bunch of objects in the nearby vicinity; some require you to figure out what happened where in a particular situation, and then correctly identify the order the events you uncovered occurred in; some are more traditional “puzzles” requiring a bit of lateral thinking and investigation to beat. The nice thing about the game’s relatively brief length is that it never feels like it’s repeating itself too much: the most-repeated game mechanic is the chronology-identifying system, and that usually comes at the conclusion of some other investigative work.

The most pleasing thing about Ethan Carter, though, is that it warns you when you start that it’s not going to hold your hand at all, and then it’s true to its word. No navigation arrows. No journal. No flashing objectives. Just you and your brain looking out onto the lovingly detailed (albeit fairly small) open world that forms the setting for Prospero’s investigations.

And what a world. It may be small, but it’s beautifully crafted; this is by far one of the best-looking games I’ve seen for a long time. Outdoors, grass, bushes and trees blow in the wind as the sunlight streaks down through gaps in the leaves. Indoors, light streaming in through windows shows dust floating in the breeze. Textures are beautifully detailed, meaning you can easily read things like book titles and small incidental signs without having to get right up close to them, and the overall atmospheric effects are marvellously convincing: there’s a lovely gentle haze in the background, and although the explorable area of the map is fairly small, the background is rendered in a convincing enough manner to suggest that the area you’re tooling around in is very much part of a much larger world. It’s gorgeous — and it provided the workout I’ve been craving for my brand new nVidia GTX 970 graphics card, which handled it perfectly on max settings without breaking a sweat. Lovely.

I shan’t get into the story of Ethan Carter now, since with it being so short, it’s something you really should experience yourself. I will say, however, that I enjoyed it a great deal, and can recommend it highly — even if you’re not normally a fan of non-violent “walking simulators”. The puzzle-solving and investigative elements elevate this far above titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home in gameplay terms, and, although short, it’s a satisfying game to work through and complete.

So go on. Set aside a few hours this weekend and go find out just where Ethan Carter has got to. You won’t regret it.

1712: Les Oignons

There are, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog a while now, many things that I do not like and wish to change about myself. Some of these are things I probably could change if I tried hard enough. Others are things that appear to be hard-wired into me, and I couldn’t change them now even if I tried.

One of the most frustrating things in this latter category is my dislike of onions.

I have hated onions for as long as I can remember. Initially dismissed by my parents as me just being a fussy eater — like most children, I was fairly fussy about a lot of unfamiliar foods when I was young — I continued to insist that not only did I simply not like onions, but they actually made me want to be sick.

That’s not an exaggeration, either; even today, if I can so much as taste a bit of raw onion, it makes me retch and completely puts me off whatever it is I am eating that has turned out to be stuffed full of onion. I won’t even eat something that has had raw onion on it, because I remain convinced that raw onion infects the flavours of everything around it, making everything else taste of onion even when the offending slices themselves have long been removed.

The strange thing about my violent dislike of onion is the fact that, in many cases, I’m absolutely fine with it if it’s been cooked into something. I don’t mind a pasta sauce that incorporates a bit of onion, for example — so long as it’s not too much — and I don’t mind a curry or Chinese dish that has a bit of onion in it — though again, not too much. Basically if I can taste it, it’s out; I cannot think of a single dish that is improved by the presence of onion, but handled correctly I can at least tolerate it.

What’s even stranger is that over the last couple of years or so, I’ve started to find even specifically onion-based things more palatable than I have done in the past. I can eat and even quite enjoy an onion bhaji, for example — though in most cases these have been deep-fried to such a degree that any resemblance to actual onions is by that point purely coincidental — and I have been known to have battered onion rings with steak and the like, too — though I will add to that that I usually smother them in so much sauce that it becomes impossible to discern their oniony origins.

Despite these changes in the last few years, though, I’m doubtful I’ll ever be able to eat onion in the same way as a lot of other people I know — and I certainly doubt I will ever get to a stage where I like it enough to specifically want to add it to things. This is frustrating, because it’s surprising quite how much food out there — particularly stuff designed for lunchtime consumption like sandwiches, wraps and the like — is absolutely rammed full of onion, in many cases ruining what sounds like an otherwise delicious item of food for me and, more often than not, making it completely unpalatable.

Oh well. I’ve survived 33 years without onions; I’m pretty sure I can probably go the rest of my life without them, too.

1711: Soporific

I have… a problem.

Said problem is that if I have to sit still and do nothing while concentrating on someone else talking for any length of time, I get extremely sleepy, regardless of how tired I actually am. My eyelids start to get heavy, my body gets tired and all I want to do is just curl up and get comfortable for a bit of a nap.

This is a problem because the times when I am supposed to sit still, do nothing and concentrate on someone else talking for any length of time are generally occasions where it would be impolite to fall asleep. Weddings and funerals, for example, but also meetings.

I’ve suffered with this issue for as long as I can remember — certainly for as long as I’ve been an adult. I remember it happening on occasion at university during lectures, but more often than not this could be attributed to a heavy night out the previous evening and a hangover weighing on my mind. (My peers found it terribly amusing when I had to quietly slip out of our weekly piano workshop to go and be a bit sick. Well, I didn’t want to throw up all over the Turner Sims concert hall.) At other times, I could fend it off by occupying my brain somewhat: either taking notes if I was actually interested in the subject of the lecture, or doodling the lecturer getting sucked off by some sort of sinister vacuum cleaner-like contraption if I wasn’t. (This happened once; it wasn’t something I found myself drawing on a regular basis.)

It’s mildly embarrassing, but fortunately I’ve never managed to actually completely fall asleep before. I’ve come perilously close, I must admit, but I always manage to maintain my faculties and remain in the land of the living. I came perilously close on more than one teacher training day while I worked in schools, too, particularly since said training days tend to ignore everything we’re ever taught about engaging people and helping them learn and instead tend to consist of someone waffling on and on and on for hours about something which is, quite possibly, a load of old bollocks.

The peculiar thing is the moment I step out of the situation where I’m supposed to be concentrating on someone else droning on about whatever, I can be back to full alertness in a matter of seconds, with no trace of tiredness. It’s just that while I’m sitting there, expected to take in everything that is being said and actually retaining very little of it at all — usually because it’s not relevant to me and thus immediately filtered out by my brain — my body appears to go into its shutdown sequence. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Or am I? That would be awful, and even more difficult to explain than falling asleep in a meeting already would be. But I guess we’ll cross that bridge if — yes, if – we come to it!