Category Archives: Personal and Opinion

Most posts fit in here. Things where I write from the heart about all manner of subjects. As is the norm on personal websites these days, I remind you once again that everything I say here is my own opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employers — past, present or future.

1549: HOUOUIN KYOUMA

Still not finished Steins;Gate – it’s long! — but I wanted to talk about it a bit more, as I played it a whole bunch this evening and think I may be closing in on one of the games several endings.

Like most good visual novels, Steins;Gate does an excellent job of drawing you into its world and helping you understand its protagonist. Despite being entirely composed of static images, character portraits and very occasional “event” images — much like every other visual novel — it manages to craft an extremely convincing setting. Or perhaps, given the game’s focus on manipulation of time, the many-worlds interpretation and all manner of other goodness (this isn’t a spoiler, by the way; it’s a core theme of the whole thing), it would be more accurate to say “settings”.

One of the most interesting things about the game is the effort to which Nitroplus (and, by extension, the translators) has gone to ensure that all the background detail in the world is consistent, detailed and, in many instances, based rather obviously on reality. An extensive in-game glossary allows you to look up information on a variety of different keywords that appear throughout the course of the narrative and dialogue — and these cover a range of subjects from real-life scientific theory to popular hypotheses put forward by science fiction, snippets of otaku culture, online culture, and “chuunibyou” conspiracy theories. Although the game takes obvious pains to twist things slightly from their real-life counterparts — IBM becomes IBN, for example; CERN becomes SERN; names of popular anime and manga get similarly bastardised — it’s obvious that a lot is based on things from the actual, real world, and consequently it’s hard not to feel like the game is subtly sneaking some genuine knowledge into your brain as you play it.

Okay, a lot of it may not be all that useful unless you have an otaku friend who constantly drops references you don’t understand (Hi!) or are acquainted with a conspiracy theorist nutjob, but it’s interesting that it’s in there nonetheless — plus it helps provide a lot of the narrative with an interesting degree of context. It’s also just plain cool for a narrative to be based on real-life urban legends such as John Titor and the question of what CERN are really up to with their Large Hadron Collider.

Aside from all that, though, Steins;Gate is simply a phenomenally well-written visual novel. It’s long and wordy, sure, but all the exposition in the game’s early chapters really pays off with some wonderfully strong character development. The protagonist in particular is a fascinating individual; being a “chuunibyou” conspiracy theorist himself with delusions of being a mad scientist named Hououin Kyouma — a name his voice actor takes considerable delight in bellowing every time it comes up in the script — makes him far more interesting to inhabit the head of than many other “blank slate” protagonist characters seen in other visual novels. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with those — they often fit well with more “dating sim”-style stories in which the protagonist is usually intended to be a self-insert for the player — but, well, yes. Steins;Gate makes a convincing case for the protagonist being a strong character in their own right.

Anyway, three solid hours of reading earlier have driven my eyes a bit squiffy so I’m off to bed. Further thoughts will doubtless follow when I’ve finished the damn thing.

1548: Sell-Out

This is probably going to sound like a terribly “inside baseball” post, but I feel the need to vent a little, so apologies in advance.

I am absolutely sick of the lack of respect given to my profession — games critic, games journalist, person who writes about games, whatever you want to call it — and I am likewise sick of the daily drama that accompanies it, particularly on the UK/European side of things. It’s getting extremely tiresome to put up with the daily snark, outrage and condemnation of this, that or the other, and I really can’t help feeling that ultimately all it does is distract from the reasons most of us got into this business in the first place: loving games.

Whether it’s someone using the infuriating scare quotes around the job title “journalist” (as in “so-called games ‘journalists’”), the regular (and, to my knowledge, usually unjustified) accusations of bribery, corruption and otherwise unethical behaviour or the current favourite of the social justice crowd, complaining whenever a white man writes something, you sometimes have to wonder why people put up with this shit. And indeed some don’t. And I can’t say I blame them.

I’ve been quite fortunate throughout my career in that there’s only been one real occasion where I became a little uncomfortable as a result of the behaviour of a reader or community member. That was back on GamePro, when the GamePro Facebook page was frequented by a rather strange individual who didn’t believe in debit cards and had some peculiar political ideas. He was harmless for the most part, until I posted a piece about an interesting-sounding game developed by a university that promised to explore matters of sexuality and gender. He exploded in a fit of rage; forced to confront things that clearly didn’t fit in with his rather narrow-minded view of the world, he became extremely aggressive and unpleasant, and for the first time I felt a little afraid of the Internet. (The second time I was afraid of the Internet has been well-documented on these pages, but that was nothing to do with work.)

The latest incident in Games Industry Drama involved a recent press event for Ubisoft’s upcoming game Watch Dogs in which attendees were reportedly given a free Nexus 7 — a decent Android tablet. Predictably, this quickly descended into people condemning the people who had accepted them and people arguing about “ethics”, while at the same time NeoGAF was doing its usual thing of whingeing about how game journalists are all paid off and how no-one writes “objective” reviews. (Hahaha.)

It is exhausting to have to process all this sort of thing on a daily basis. I write about games for one reason and one reason only. (Well, two if you count the paycheque.) I write about games because I love writing about games. No other reason. I’m not trying to change the world. I’m not trying to make people rise up and fight against oppressive powers. I’m not trying to make people confront things they’re uncomfortable with. And perhaps I should be doing those things. But I’m not. The reason I write about games is because I love writing about games, and because I love games.

When I come across a brilliant game I love that few people are talking about, the first thing I think about is how I might be able to write about it in a way that gets my passion and enthusiasm across. These are experiences I want to share with people; experiences I want other people to be able to have. And if just one person reads something I’ve written and thinks “hmm, that sounds interesting; maybe I’ll check it out!” then I’m happy.

But if just one person rolls up and calls me a sellout or calls my integrity into question, that sucks. Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with that particular issue in my career, but seeing it constantly going on all around me on a seemingly daily basis is just exhausting. Sometimes I wish everyone would just shut the fuck up and just enjoy themselves for once.

And I realise that by writing this I’m simply contributing to the noise. But it needed to get out of my brain and on to the page. And now I’m done. I’m off to go and play either Final Fantasy XIV or Demon Gaze and not look at social media for the rest of the day.

1547: Reading Steiner

A lengthy Steins;Gate session this evening coupled with a chat about Saya no Uta (aka Song of Saya, a game I haven’t played but am looking forward to trying) with my friend Mark has reminded me both how and why I love the visual novel medium.

I use the word “medium” when referring to visual novels rather than “genre” because in many cases, it’s not entirely accurate to call them “games”, despite the fact that they tend to be festooned in the trappings of video games. Most tend to include some sort of metagame element, be it a simple checklist of endings, a CG gallery with a completion percentage or, in the case of more complex games like Steins;Gate, even achievements. Most of them are presented in a distinctly game-like fashion, with console-style main menus that make pleasing noises when you click on them, colourful but clear text boxes with a little spinny thing in the corner that tells you when you’ve reached the end of the current paragraph, and all manner of other things.

And yet they’re not games. Not really. They’re interactive stories — some having no more than one or two meaningful choices over the course of the entire narrative, and some even eschewing the element of choice whatsoever — that make use of multimedia presentation to distinguish themselves from, you know, reading a book. The combination of static background images, static or lightly animated characters, music, voice acting, sound effects and text all combine to create a very distinctive effect — and one that can be a powerful poke to the imagination.

Books, of course, are the poster childs for stoking the fires of the imagination, but visual novels also do this, albeit in a different way. Whereas in a book it’s left largely up to you how you picture the scene unfolding in front of you, in visual novels you tend to get a bit more in the way of audio-visual cues. You can hear the characters’ voices (at least you can in recent releases; earlier VNs were text-only), you can see the characters, you can hear the music giving you an idea of the overall mood and, if the scene is a particularly important one, there’ll be an “event” image depicting a dramatic moment from whatever is happening.

Far from being an inferior means of stirring the imagination, this approach works in a different way. While books provide the stimulus for mental pictures through descriptive text, visual novels simply use their multimedia element to do so, which allows them to cut back a little on the descriptive text and instead explore the protagonist’s innermost thoughts, or engage in some snappy dialogue between characters.

Visual novels present a particularly good means of expressing a first-person narrative. While in first-person perspective books you tend to feel like you’re just along for the ride, in visual novels it feels like you’re taking a much more active role — even if your influence on the overall story is minimal. You’re sitting inside the main character’s mind looking out through their eyes and listening to their innermost thoughts — and even if the main character is some sort of awful jerk (as they often are in visual novels) this provides a very good means of exploring that character, why they are an awful jerk and how they may or may not go about changing themselves. Character growth! How about that.

This isn’t to say visual novels have to be confined to first-person narratives, however. No; in fact, it can be very effective for a visual novel to “cut away” to another character, or even a complete shift in perspective to third-person. Nitroplus’ visual novel Deus Machina Demonbane is a particularly good example of this being used effectively; during its first-person sections, it’s something of a film noir tale about a down-on-his-luck detective and how he becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly ridiculous events. During its third-person sections, however, the true scale of what Kujou is involved in becomes apparent thanks to being able to get an overall picture of what is going on — coupled with the authentically overblown and distinctly Lovecraftian narration that accompanies these scenes.

Steins;Gate, also from Nitroplus, is a little more traditional than Demonbane in that it remains firmly stuck inside the protagonist’s mind, but my gosh what an interesting head to be stuck inside, for Rintaro Okabe is a strange individual indeed — seemingly convinced he’s a mad scientist named Hououin Kyouma (which his voice actor bellows with admirable aplomb every time it comes up in the script) who is being pursued by “The Organisation”, it’s not entirely clear for a lot of the game whether Okabe genuinely has a screw loose or if he’s just playing up for the people around him. The sheer ridiculousness of his statements would seem to suggest the latter, but then he does something so outrageous that you have to wonder about his mental state. And when Steins;Gate‘s overarching narrative threads start to get moving, things become even more murky.

The upshot of this is that Okabe becomes something of an unreliable narrator. And this is something that visual novels are particularly good at exploring. Saya no Uta is another particularly good example from what little I know of it, but there are countless others, too; when you’re observing a narrative from a first-person perspective, after all, you’re only getting one person’s perspective on it — and how can you be sure that person is telling the truth?

That’s the question, huh? Anyway. That’s that for now. Check out Steins;Gate if you’ve got a yawning chasm in your life that can only be filled by utterly fascinating sci-fi; full review coming soon on USgamer.

1546: Gaze This Way

Been playing an unusual Vita game for review recently. Normally I wouldn’t blog about games that I’m reviewing, but I already wrote a “first impressions” piece about the game over on USgamer a while back, so, well, these are some second impressions, I guess.

The game in question is Demon Gaze from Kadokawa Games, brought to the West by the ever-reliable NIS America. I didn’t know a lot about this game prior to starting to play it save for the fact that it had upset a few people — as many Japanese games tend to — by featuring a selection of pretty anime-style girls with artwork that is occasionally on the suggestive side.

What I wasn’t expecting from it was an old-school dungeon-crawler of the Wizardry mould, right down to creating your own party bit by bit as you can afford to, We’re talking manually choosing race, class and appearance for your characters, then heading out into a grid-based dungeon to fight lots of monsters, solve some rudimentary puzzles and ultimately complete some quests.

What I also wasn’t expecting was a rock-hard level of difficulty almost from the outset. Unlike in some other Japanese role-playing games, a level 1 character in Demon Gaze really is utter shit. Their stats are poor, their HP is low and it’s very rare for them to have any useful abilities from their class. This makes life interesting when you can finally afford to recruit an additional party member and they have to start from this position of non-power while the rest of your adventuring brigade are happily chopping the heads off monsters left, right and centre. You have to take care of the newbie until they find their feet a bit, and then only let them step into the front lines when you’re absolutely sure they can handle it.

Because this isn’t a game that is afraid to kill you and dump you back at the title screen without any ceremony. Step into a fight you can’t win and fail to get away quickly enough and there’s no “retry” option, no fade-to-black-then-wake-up-back-at-the-inn, it’s just Game Over. Reload. I hope you remembered to save every time you get back from an adventure because the game sure as hell isn’t going to auto-save for you.

The other thing that is a bit of a culture shock is that the game doesn’t hold your hand with regard to quests at all. “Go find this dude,” the game will say. “Where are they?” you’ll ponder. “Oh, you know,” replies the game. “Out there. Somewhere. Come back when you find him.” Cue plenty of enjoyable exploration and risk-taking as you search every nook and cranny to complete your objectives. Can the party survive trudging through that poisonous swamp? Only one way to find ou– oh, they’re all dead.

In some senses, this old-school difficulty and unforgiving nature is going to put a lot of people off. But that’s fine; titles like Dark Souls have proven there’s a market for unforgiving games in which you have to take a bit more care than in many other modern titles, and Demon Gaze is seemingly designed along these lines. (That’s not the only similarity, either; both Demon Gaze and the Souls series allow you to leave messages for other players that are then shared on the network, though the former lacks the latter’s ability for true multiplayer.)

I’m a relatively short way into the game so far, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s the sort of thing that feels like it could be a “long-term project” of a game; it’s fairly light on the story side of things (though it does have some seriously adorable characters who often greet you and have their own silly little side-plots when you get back from an adventure) and surprisingly friendly to quick play sessions, making it an ideal handheld game for a bit of grinding on the bus or over lunch.

Full review coming towards the end of the month; for now, suffice to say, I like it a lot.

1545: Changing Communication

I’m trying to make a conscious effort to tone down the effect the Internet has had on the way I communicate over time. This may sound like a peculiar thing to say, given that the majority of the communication I engage in on a daily basis is via the Internet, but just recently a number of things have really started to bug me about the way people talk to one another online, and I simply want to make sure that I’m not a part of it and thus, perhaps, inadvertently annoying someone else.

I think the chief thing I want to make sure I avoid is excessive hyperbole. Most people who use social media have been guilty of this at some point — posting a link to a mildly amusing cat video and declaring “Shut the Internet down. We’re done.” or “This is the best thing ever!” or “There are no words.” or… I could go on, but I won’t. You get the idea.

Declaring things “the best thing ever” or along those lines is excessive hyperbole. It devalues that phrase “the best thing ever” if everything is the best thing ever, and the other examples are just putting undue pressure on something that was probably designed to be a throwaway joke to perform and be somehow amazing.

Particularly gross examples of excessive hyperbole come in the form of headlines from sites like Buzzfeed, Upworthy and their numerous imitators. Inevitably conversational in tone but capitalised excessively So They Look Like This And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next, these headlines, on an almost hourly basis, promise laughter until you evacuate your bowels, crying until your eyes shrivel up and stories so heartwarming you’ll cook yourself from the inside. And they’re rarely anything special; at best, they’re sob stories deliberately designed to emotionally manipulate the reader; at worst, they’re pointless nonsense deliberately designed in an attempt to make them “go viral”.

Excessive hyperbole can spill over into discourse, too, and it frequently does. I’ve lost count of the number of times things have been described as “toxic” over the last year or two, when in fact this is, in many cases, an exaggeration. (Well, of course it is; if it was literally toxic then it would kill anyone involved.) And once you jump onto your high horse and brand something as “toxic” there’s really nowhere to go from there; the people who disagree will disagree forcefully because you were forceful in the first place, while the people who agree will look like wet lettuces if they decide to come in with a “Well, I wouldn’t say toxic, but…”. Thus online discourse frequently descends into who can be the most hyperbolic the loudest or the most often, and the quality of discussion suffers enormously as a result.

Last time I wrote about this sort of thing I attracted commenters accusing me of something called “tone policing”, which is where you distract attention away from the core argument that someone is trying to make by focusing on the way they are making it rather than the content. And that, perhaps, is something that people including myself do do, but if it’s becoming an issue then perhaps the people who are getting “tone policed” should consider the way they are making those arguments in the first place. With less hyperbole, less use of strong, emotive language such as “toxic” and more in the way of constructive, descriptive comments, we can all get to know the way we feel about things a lot more easily, and we can move forward in debates and discussions.

As it stands, however, the second someone jumps onto their high horse with a disproportionately passionate reaction to something that is, in many cases, very simple, I simply cannot take them seriously. And I doubt that’s the effect they want to have with their arguments.

I certainly don’t. Which is why I’m making an effort to tone down my own hyperbole and try to speak like a normal human being when communicating on the Internet as much as possible. With a text-based medium of communication like the Internet, you have a moment to pause before you respond to or broadcast something to look back on what you’ve written, reflect and decide whether that’s really what you wanted to say. Things said in the heat of the moment are often regretted with hindsight; those regrets can be easily avoided with a little less hastiness and a little more consideration, both for yourself and for others.

This was a Public Service Announcement on behalf of the National Hyperbole Authority, the best thing to happen to language in three thousand years.

1544: Sick Notes

As I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past, I keep a few copies of defunct UK games magazine PC Zone around as a reminder of some early forays into writing about games professionally. These ’90s issues of the dead magazine feature nothing more exciting than a few walkthroughs by me, but it’s the rest of them I find so fascinating to read with modern eyes.

What particularly caught my attention recently was a section called “Sick Notes”. This was one of the many different things the magazine did with its last page before the back cover — over time, this included a regular column by “Mr Cursor”, a look back on the month’s gaming and what one of the editorial staff had been up to, and numerous other things.

Sick Notes was the brainchild of Charlie Brooker — yes, that Charlie Brooker — and was intended as a complement to the magazine’s other letters pages. PC Zone at this point had several different “reader input” pages, including a traditional “letters to the editor” page, a “Watch Dogs” letters page where readers could write and complain about service they’d received from hardware and software manufacturers, and a “Troubleshooter” letters page where they could ask technical queries about PC problems.

Sick Notes, meanwhile, was marketed as “The Place to Write for Abuse” so you knew what you were getting when you wrote in — and you had to write specifically to Sick Notes. It certainly lived up to its name. Here’s one memorable example that won the monthly £50 “Loser of the Month” prize, with Brooker’s response in bold beneath.

I see that in issue 67 of your “magazine” you asked us to send in a game idea. How’s this then: You start off in a primary school where all goes well and you please the teachers. You then progress to secondary education and achieve above average results and so decide to sit A-levels in your local college and finally, after four years in university, end up with an honours degree in English language and English literature.

AND THEN YOU END UP WRITING YOUR PATHETIC [swearword] PIECE OF [swearword] PAGE-FILLING SO-CALLED COLUMN.

Mark Richardson

There was a boy called Mark Richardson at my school. Everyone called him ‘skids’ because once, in the PE changing rooms, somebody noticed that he had huge brown skidmarks in his underpants. Not that this inability to tackle basic personal hygiene was restricted just to poor wiping skills. He smelled bad pretty much all the time. He was a mess. His face was permanently coated with a faintly shiny film of sweat and grime, his hair so caked in grease it recalled television footage of unfortunate seabirds in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil slick. His clothing was dirty. To use the Whizzer and Chips terminology of the day, it ‘ponged’.

But the worst thing about Skids was the way he picked his nose. He was always at it, plugging a finger in as far as he could, corkscrewing it around inside the nasal cavity, unhooking entire strata of half-dried mucus, drawing out measureless strings of oleaginous grey-green slime. Then he’d take them to his mouth, puckering his lips as if sampling some exotic delicacy. Skids devoured snot. He relished it. Guzzled it. Chewed it up and swallowed it whole, then painted his finger clean with his pink, stubby tongue. Made you sick just to watch him do that.

Anyway, sorry, what were you saying?

This was pretty much par for the course back around the time of PC Zone issue 70 (December 1998) but looking back on it now it’s hard to believe that this existed. And don’t worry, I’m not about to go off on a whole big “This Is Not Okay” social justice rant here; quite the opposite, in fact. I find it a bit sad that people who write for a living — usually for websites rather than magazines these days, though print is still hanging on in there — don’t really have the freedom to express this side of themselves any more; the means for some much-needed stress relief, and for the readers to try their luck against one of the most notoriously acerbic wits in the business.

I mean, sure, these days we have the people who have made a name for themselves with strong opinion pieces — people like Ben Kuchera and Jim Sterling spring to mind immediately, and there are others, too — but it’s not the same thing at all. Brooker didn’t just blindly insult people in Sick Notes — though he always did so with carefully-considered barbs rather than mindless abuse on that page — he also wrote witty, creative, unconventional articles that were entertaining to read far ahead of fulfilling some sort of amorphous “obligation”. And he wasn’t alone, either; the writers of Zone, among them, did all sorts of things with even their most mundane articles, with particularly memorable examples including entire reviews written as movie scripts, a “Franglais” preview of Flashback follow-up Fade to Black written from the perspective of its protagonist Conrad Hart, and countless others I’ve doubtless forgotten.

What’s my point? I’m not quite sure, really, but I think it’s that people who wrote about games used to seem like they were having more fun with it. This isn’t to say that there aren’t great, entertaining writers out there whose work is a pleasure to read, but rather there seems to be something of an unspoken rule that things need to be taken very seriously these days. You’ve got to get that SEO; you’ve got to get those clicks; you’ve got to capitalise on the popular things of the time; you’ve got to be seen to be criticising the things other people are criticising.

Cynical? Perhaps, but it’s why things like Goat Simulator feel so obnoxiously forced; what should be a silly little game that people stumble across organically and then tell their friends about has become something heavily promoted and treated with, in a number of cases, considerably more respect than I think even its creators intended. Fair play to them for successfully capturing the imagination of the press and the public, I guess, but it’s just not the same as the magic I feel reading an old PC Zone and comparing it to its rivals PC Format and PC Gamer as well as multiformat magazines, each of which had their own distinctive tone about them.

We can’t go back now, though; the world expects daily updates as things happen these days, rather than a monthly digest of things the editorial team thought were interesting, intriguing or just amusing. And the world certainly doesn’t expect a member of a site’s staff to hurl such an amazing torrent of intelligent abuse at them as Brooker did to Mark Richardson above; these days, treating your readership with such contempt is probably a firing offence.

Which is kind of weird, when you think about it; websites deal with reader numbers that magazines, even in their heyday, could only dream of, while for a magazine like PC Zone, every reader counted and thus you’d think posting something like Brooker’s response would be taking something of a big risk.

Maybe it was too much of a risk. Maybe that’s why PC Zone doesn’t exist any more. But I’ll be honest with you; I miss those days. I’d much rather be working on a monthly magazine than a constantly-updated website, but this is 2014; that’s the way things are, so I must, as the saying goes, “deal with it”.

1543: Secret Diaries

Sue Townsend apparently died today. As with any “celebrity” (or at least well-known person) death, I’m not sure whether I really feel “sad” about this, but it’s certainly the end of an era, and I definitely have some very fond memories of her work.

The Adrian Mole books that she wrote are, I think, the books I’ve re-read the most number of times in my life. When I first acquired copies of the first two books — battered old hand-me-downs with pages falling out; copies that I imagine used to belong to my brother — I had literally no idea what to expect. I didn’t even know whether Adrian Mole was a person or some sort of anthropomorphized Wind in the Willows-style character.

It wasn’t very long before I was hooked. I started reading them at just the right age, and managed to catch the subsequent books at similarly relevant points throughout my life. While I’ve enjoyed the whole series over time, I feel that the first two books in particular – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole – remain the highlights for me. I retain, to this day, something of a fascination with teenage life; a fascination that I can continually indulge thanks to anime, TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all manner of other media. I think it’s the whole “coming of age” thing that appeals to me; seeing people go through genuinely formative experiences and changing as a result.

The events that transpire in the Adrian Mole books are all rather mundane in nature, but help to shape Adrian into the person he later becomes. While he ends up not exactly realising a lot of his potential in later life, he remains, for the most part, a relatable character with whom I often found myself identifying, particularly in the early books. His feeling of slight detachment from the rest of the world, particularly when it came to being “cool”, making friends or talking to girls, was something that I also found myself experiencing, and while I stopped short of considering myself an “intellectual” at the age of 13, there were times that I felt I could have been writing that secret diary myself.

In fact, I did write several secret diaries over the years, beginning shortly after when I read the Adrian Mole books. Sadly, all of these (to my knowledge, anyway) have been lost to the mists of time, usually because I ended up writing something that embarrassed myself so much that I threw the whole thing away so there was absolutely no risk of anyone else ever having the chance of stumbling across it. I kind of regret that now; much as I regularly like browsing back over my entries on this blog — the Random Post button at the top is a vaguely fun time if you have nothing better to do — I also liked looking back over old diaries and reading my thoughts and feelings about things. During my teenage years, entries were often about girls and my various feelings towards them, inevitably unrequited. During my university years, entries were often about girls, too, but also, I feel, sparked the beginning of my coming to understand my own anxiety and depression issues — issues that I’m still coming to terms with today.

If nothing else, writing down thoughts and feelings about things — even the most mundane things — can prove to be an enormously cathartic experience. I know that the fact my romantic (and, uh, erotic) feelings towards several girls in high school were inevitably unrequited was made somewhat easier to deal with by having that “release” of writing down how I felt about these things at times; and when I tried my hand at writing a diary again a couple of times during my university studies, it proved to be similarly helpful.

What I’m doing with this blog is, for the most part, the same thing; the difference here is that it’s public and digital rather than scrawled in biro and hidden under my mattress. Regular readers will know I’m pretty open about a lot of things, though, and the world hasn’t ended as a result; perhaps if someone had inadvertently stumbled across those secret diaries — or, if they did, spoken up about them — it wouldn’t have been all that bad.

Or perhaps it could have been the most mortifying experience in the world. I guess we’ll never know, now.

Oh, and if, by any chance, through some twisting and turning of the worldlines, my 14-year old self ends up reading this? Give up on Nikki, mate; she’s well out of your league.

1542: Terebi Desu

Our new TV arrived today at some ungodly hour in the morning — which felt all the more ungodly for the fact that excellent Vita dungeon crawler Demon Gaze had kept me enraptured until 3am — and I’ve been having a bit of a play with it. (For the curious, it’s a Samsung Series 6 55-inch LED TV; it has a catchy three thousand-digit model number but I have no idea what it is.)

When Andie suggested we grab a new TV, I was a little concerned that it might not be a significant upgrade over what we already had — a 40-inch Samsung, albeit one that is now about four or five years old. After all, despite the fact that my previous TV was an end-of-line model when I bought it — making it much cheaper — it was pretty good. Three HDMI ports, built-in Freeview tuner, full 1080p support — it had pretty much everything I needed, though it would have been nice to have an optical output port. Everything I connected to it worked just fine, though, ranging from the PlayStation 2 through the SCART port (yummy, blurry standard-def picture) to the various games consoles and PC through the HDMI ports.

With the previous TV working just fine, why buy a new one, you might ask? Well, having spent this evening playing some Final Fantasy XIV on it and having watched some anime and TV on it earlier… yes, it was a good investment. The increase in size is extremely noticeable — it’s big enough to have a touch of “peripheral vision” now, giving a much more immersive feel to both video and games — and the LED screen is lovely, bright and clear. I have no idea if I’ve optimized its settings appropriately — I’ve put the PC input into Game mode, because prior to that there was noticeable input lag, but haven’t really fiddled with much else — but it certainly seems to look very nice, although as Andie pointed out, the bigger the screen you get, the more of a dog’s dinner standard-definition footage and TV broadcasts look. Oh well.

It’s a Smart TV, too, which means it has two remotes, one of which has a trackpad rather than, you know, just being normal, plus “apps” for doing shit old, dumb TVs don’t do. There’s stuff like BBC iPlayer and Netflix built into it, for example, and even apps for things like Spotify and the like. (There are also games to download, but somehow I don’t see them being particularly worthwhile, and as such I will be giving them a wide berth.) I’m not entirely convinced how much I will use the “smart” features over time, but it’s nice to have them there, I guess — not to mention the fact it is seemingly now impossible to buy a new TV that isn’t 1) “smart” and 2) 3D.

The 3D thing surprises me somewhat, I must confess. I thought 3D TV and gaming had been a colossal failure, and yet all the televisions we looked at over the weekend were 3D in one form or another. The TV we ended up getting is “active 3D”, which is supposedly better because you have to turn the glasses on before they work properly (and for some other reasons, too) and sure, it’s quite fun — we watched a couple of trailers in 3D earlier and it was quite cool — but it’s not something I can see myself using a lot of, and certainly not for protracted periods of time. It will almost certainly be something to show off to people who come and visit, but little else.

Anyway, I’m very pleased with it. It fits nicely on our TV stand and doesn’t look too big or too small, and it’s a noticeable upgrade over what we had before — plus the almost bezel-free design, with the picture going right the way to the edges of the front of the unit, looks absolutely smashing.

I’m sure I’ll be taking it for granted before long — and I’m not looking forward to moving it when our new house is sorted — but yes; I’m glad we got it. And now I’m off to bed because I’ve been staring at it all evening and I think my eyes could probably do with a rest!

1540: Darkness

The focus of the new season is very much on what were previously secondary characters.

The focus of the new season is very much on what were previously secondary characters.

I’m finally on to the final (well, most recent) season of To Love-Ru, aka To Love-Ru Darkness, and it’s been really interesting to see this show’s evolution over time in several ways, even over the course of just a few years.

The first series of To Love-Ru came out in 2008 and was a fairly conventional episodic format in which each episode was largely self-contained. Motto To Love-Ru, which followed two years later in 2010, instead followed the “mini-episodes” approach of Ika Musume/Squid Girl. And To Love-Ru Darkness, which aired two years after that in 2012, returns to an episodic format, but with a much stronger sense of ongoing plot and frequent use of cliffhangers to close off each episode.

The atmosphere has changed markedly over time, too. The original series of To Love-Ru was rather silly, light-hearted nonsense that, as I’ve previously mentioned, was pretty undemanding fluff that you can watch without having to concentrate too hard — but it did close out the season with a spectacular two-part finale that brought things to a natural break, if not complete closure.

Motto To Love-Ru, meanwhile, was enjoyable but for the most part felt even more “disposable” thanks to its short mini-episodes. Over the course of the series, we got a better understanding of the various characters involved by simply seeing them in a variety of different situations, but there was relatively little in the sense of overarching narrative that advanced as the series progressed aside from the introduction and exploration of a couple of new characters. The season finale, meanwhile, was a big moment for several of the characters involved, but in a completely different way to the original show. Rather than being an overblown epic involving protagonist Rito battling against unfeasible odds in an attempt to prove himself as in the first season, it instead was a fairly low-key affair that, in contrast to the rest of the run, linked its three mini-episodes together and culminated in a long-awaited confession from Rito to lead heroine (and super-cute space alien) Lala — and an unfortunate misunderstanding as he attempted to also confess to secondary love interest Haruna (who is likewise super-cute, but not a space alien).

To Love-Ru Darkness picks up directly from where Motto To Love-Ru left off, in contrast to how Motto To Love-Ru assumed some time had passed between the first series, the first set of OVAs and the new season. And it has a noticeably different focus so far in the few episodes I’ve watched, too; rather than focusing on the relationship between Rito and Lala that was the centrepiece of both To Love-Ru and Motto To Love-Ru, early episodes instead explore the character of Lala’s sister Momo, whose devious machinations sort of have Rito’s interests at heart, but are fundamentally largely incompatible with the norms of Earth society.

Lala, the centrepiece of the previous two seasons, doesn't even appear in a lot of promotional artwork for Darkness.

Lala, the centrepiece of the previous two seasons, doesn’t even appear in a lot of promotional artwork for Darkness.

In short, Momo decides after seeing Rito make his heartfelt confessions at the end of Motto To Love-Ru that she, too, likes Rito, and decides that the best thing for everyone involved in the increasingly complicated love polygon situation they all find themselves in would be if Rito marries Lala, becomes King of the Universe and consequently no longer bound by the rules of Earth society, then marries everyone else that he has ever had feelings for or who has had feelings for him. She, in short, is firmly in favour of creating a harem of concubines for her beloved — a harem in which she, too, will play her role, of course.

Rito, thus far, is somewhat resistant to this idea, since being of the “perpetually confused protagonist” mould, he is still not quite sure what his true feelings are with regard to Lala and Haruna, let alone Momo (who keeps showing up almost naked in his bed at night-time, much to his chagrin), class representative Kotegawa (whom Rito has a habit of falling over into inappropriately), the extraterrestrial assassin Golden Darkness (who clearly doesn’t really want to kill Rito) and, indeed, his own sister Mikan, who has struck up something of a friendship with Golden Darkness. Constantly yanked from one situation beyond his control to another, I can sense that this season is going to see some of Rito’s toughest trials to date — particularly now that some new characters, such as Golden Darkness’ “sister”, have gotten involved.

In keeping with the previous seasons and OVA sets, the amount of fanservice has once again been ratcheted up, with the number of bare nipples and panty flashes in To Love-Ru Darkness having increased noticeably since the original (rather tame in comparison) season and even since the somewhat more suggestive Motto To Love-Ru. The show refuses to devolve into nothing but T&A, however; even amid all the clear and present fanservice, there’s still an ongoing plot that, this time around, seems to blend the silliness of the earlier seasons with something that provides a bit more meat on the bones.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting season, all round, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Rito’s misadventures take him next.

1539: Winding Up

The weekend is coming to a close, and another week of work beckons. After that, there will be another weekend, and the whole cycle will repeat over and over and over again.

This weekend has been quite nice despite the fact we haven’t really done all that much. Andie and I paid not one but two visits to a nice local restaurant/bar/lounge type place called Trago Lounge that we were first introduced to for a friend’s birthday a while back. We went there on Saturday for one of their excellent burgers — the “Hero Burger”, which also features chorizo, some unidentifiable green goo that tastes nice, chipotle mayo and a pickled chilli in a toasted, crispy brioche bun is delicious — and enjoyed it so much we decided we’d drop in for breakfast today.

Trago Lounge has a substantial breakfast menu, largely inspired by the sort of stuff you’d typically get in an American breakfast-specialist place such as the Half-Day Cafe in Marin County, CA that my parents always insist on going to every time we go and visit my brother. (To be fair, they do do amazing breakfasts.) Today, I tried a stack of eggy bread with crispy bacon and syrup — predictably yummy, though the bacon was a little overdone — while Andie had what was called “dirty beans”, which was essentially a bowl full of home-made baked beans (three different types) with a healthy dollop of barbecue pulled pork and some lumps of toasted ciabatta to dip. It’s not what I would have called “breakfast” per se, but Andie enjoyed it. (It was a little too oniony for me, however.)

After that, we wandered into town for an idle look around and I ended up buying a new television. I recently came into a bit of money, you see, and while I’m intending on saving most of it, Andie quite rightly suggested that it was probably worth spending some of it on something nice that I’d enjoy. After a considerable amount of umming and ahhing — there really wasn’t all that much I want to spent a considerable amount of money on right now, aside from, you know, the house we’re buying — Andie suggested replacing my current TV, which is now a good few years old. It still works perfectly well, I might add, but the new one is significantly bigger, has an almost bezel-free edge, is an LED screen (as opposed to my current TV’s LCD), has optical sound output instead of analogue and has a lot more options to tweak for optimising performance when watching TV, watching movies or playing games. Oh, and it’s 3D, too, because it’s apparently impossible not to buy a 3D TV any more, despite 3D TV not really being anywhere near as much of a thing that everyone tried to convince us a year or two back.

Anyway, that’s turning up on Wednesday because John Lewis apparently don’t stock anything above 50 inches in store (it’s 55) so we’re both looking forward to that. And that, really, was my weekend. Oh, I found two Atmas in Final Fantasy XIV earlier on, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that. And people got angry on Twitter earlier on (not at me!), but people always get angry on Twitter and I’m frankly beyond giving a shit about any of it any more.

So that’s that, really. Night night.