2471: Memoirs of an Ordinary Person

I’ve been listening to some audiobooks while I’ve been working the past few days. I’ve just finished Dave Gorman’s Too Much Information — a work that resonated all too well with me, given my growing frustration with the cacophonous “noise” of everyday life — and have since started on Sue Perkins’ Spectacles, her memoir.

One thing I’ve often wondered over the years is whether or not there’s any perceived value in the memoirs of “ordinary people” — in other words, memoirs written by people who aren’t celebrities, or even those who haven’t had anything seemingly noteworthy happen to them. And I’m inclined to think that there is — after all, the best celebrity memoirs are the ones that talk not about being a celebrity, but about their childhood, or formative experiences growing up, or things that they’ve experienced that helped make them the person they are today. Things that are relatable to the audience; things that are relatable to “normal” people.

There’s value in having a celebrity name attached, of course: someone who enjoys Sue Perkins’ TV and radio appearances is likely to pick up her memoir simply because they like her, for example. But this doesn’t mean her life story is inherently more valuable than anyone else’s. In fact, I’d wager a guess that there are lots of people out there who have had lives far more interesting than today’s celebrities have.

In my experience, whether or not the person whose life you are reading about is famous or not is largely irrelevant; what does, on the other hand, matter is whether or not they have interesting stories to tell.

And, well, I don’t like to blow my own trumpet too much, but I do feel I have more than a few interesting stories to tell. My life has certainly been eventful, if nothing else. This blog has occasionally dipped into memoir-esque territory, but as an idle side project, I’ve started writing down some of the things I remember from my past.

I am a normal human being. Well, as normal as anyone is these days, which is to say I’m riddled with neuroses, suffer from depression, anxiety and social anxiety—two very different, but related things.

I digress; I am a relatively normal human being. I haven’t survived some sort of unimaginable tragedy, I haven’t had to cope with a life-threatening illness or the challenges of a physical disability and the nearest I’ve come to being involved with a famous person is working in an Apple Store at the time John Cleese came in with a black credit card, proclaiming that it could “sink a bloody battleship”. I didn’t serve him, I was just there; that’s how much of a relatively normal human being I am.

Nonetheless, Things have happened to me, much as they have doubtless happened to you, your friends and the rest of your family. These Things may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have found that the strangest things stick in your memories for many years, and it seems like quite a shame to run the risk of them, at some point, being filtered out of your mind in favour of some new and ultimately useless piece of information you picked up from Wikipedia. We live in an age full of constant noise, after all, with every piece of media around us vying for our attention and threatening to fill our minds with useless dribble that might get you lots of Likes on Facebook, but which doesn’t really compare to the fond memories of your childhood.

My memories aren’t all fond. Some of them are downright painful or embarrassing, and some of them, to this day, still make me feel overwhelmingly negative emotions such as anger or grief. It’s healthy to share such memories, though; otherwise, they just get bottled up inside, and, over time, you run the risk of them overflowing and forcing you to, I don’t know, run naked through a shopping centre with a chainsaw in each hand singing Stairway to Heaven. Or, you know, something.

With all that in mind, then, writing them down in some form seems like a reasonable idea.

2470: The Not-Games


There seems to be a perpetual struggle in the world of video game enthusiasts to define exactly what is and is not a game.

At the head of this nontroversy is Fullbright Studios’ Gone Home, a first-person interactive story where you walk around a house sans its inhabitants, piecing together a number of different plot threads scattered around the place, some of which are more explicit than others — and some of which are handled better than others. I liked Gone Home, but I felt like its “main” story — the one that lets you “finish” the game when you reach its ultimately rather mundane conclusion, despite what it has built you up to expect — was by far its weakest aspect, with much more interesting things going on through the “unspoken” stories: the bottle of whiskey hidden on top of a bookcase; the condoms in a drawer; the documents lying around the place.

To some people, Gone Home isn’t a game, much as similar games in the genre that has become semi-derisively known as “walking simulator” aren’t considered games either. Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and others like them: all too many people are far too hung up on the rather dull question of whether or not they are actually a game rather than unpacking the dense, interesting narratives that each of these experiences feature.

For some reason, visual novels appear to largely escape this sort of discussion, despite being less interactive than a walking simulator. In your average visual novel, you click through reams of text for hours and hours and hours and occasionally make a choice. In a particular subset of the visual novel called the kinetic novel, you don’t even make any choices: you just read and read and read, and then it’s over with you not having actually done anything.

Even these almost entirely non-interactive affairs don’t seem to get lambasted in the same way as Gone Home and its ilk, though, despite arguably being less of a “game” than something that has a 3D engine, WSAD movement controls and mouselook. In fact, even some of the most well-regarded games in the genre — The Fruit of Grisaia is the most prominent that springs to mind — only have maybe one or two meaningful choices to make in the whole game, with each acting as a fairly transparent means of setting a flag as to which character’s route you’re going to follow, and whether your get their Good or Bad ending.

I wonder why this is? Is it subject matter? No, I don’t think so, because while, say, Gone Home has its narrow-minded detractors for being “progressive” — I think the statute of limitations is probably up on it by now and we can say its main story is actually about a young lesbian couple running away together — there are certainly plenty of well-regarded visual novels out there that deal sensitively with homosexuality, both male-male and female-female.

Is it about artistic intent and the overall “honesty” of the work? Perhaps. Titles such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture often draw ire for being “pretentious” and, while I enjoyed all of the titles I’ve mentioned thus far, it’s kind of hard to argue with that label. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture in particular feels very much like a case of “let’s make this as arty and confusing as possible” before kind of running out of steam in its final moments and getting just a bit too silly and implausible. Dear Esther suffers from a similar problem, deliberately mixing a number of different narratives together — with some randomisation in the mix, too — to try and obfuscate what the whole damn thing is actually about for as long as possible. The Stanley Parable, meanwhile, completely runs with this and knows exactly what it is doing, laughing along with the player at every opportunity, too.

Contrast with a visual novel, such as the one I’m currently reading/playing: Supipara, by minori. Supipara is a kinetic novel: there are no choices whatsoever. Yet it’s charming, compelling and addictive purely by virtue of its beautiful presentation, likeable and mysterious characters and intriguing premise that blends the mundanity of a slice-of-life tale with elements of the supernatural.

At no point does Supipara let any part of itself run away or overwhelm the rest of it. Its supernatural elements are incorporated honestly and without attempts to obfuscate or explain them away as quickly as possible, hoping we won’t notice — Life is Strange, I’m looking at you. It just is what it is, and it invites you to judge it on that basis. There’s no need to critically analyse it just to understand what the fuck happened in it — though this isn’t to say there isn’t value in applying some literary theory to unpack the various subtexts and themes in it — and thus it can be enjoyed on a number of different levels without Dear Esther’s implicit suggestion that “you must be this smart to enjoy this ride”.

I don’t have an answer to the question “is [x] actually a game?” because your definition of “game” will doubtless be different from mine. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, anyway; the only thing you should be asking yourself when engaging with a piece of interactive entertainment — regardless of how interactive — is, quite simply, “is this a good use of my time?” If yes, great. If no, maybe put it down and try something else instead, while acknowledging the fact that some people might enjoy it more than you. There’s really no need for the bitter arguments that have ensued since technology has allowed developers to get a bit more “artsy” with their creations.

Supipara is great, by the way. I’m going to do a full write-up on MoeGamer in the near future once I’ve read the whole thing, but for now I’ll say it’s one of the most beautifully presented visual novels I’ve ever seen, has a compelling, if low-key story, and some grade-A waifus. And what more, really, do you need to have a good time of an evening?


2469: OK Google


With the courier work I’ve been doing for the past few days, I’ve been relying heavily on Google Maps for navigation around the area, and I’ve been discovering the benefits of voice controls — it’s much easier to simply say “take me to…” and Google work it out for you than to type in a postcode using Android’s cumbersome and clumsy keyboard.

I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the accuracy of the voice recognition, since it even recognises non-standard words such as street names without too much difficulty, and it uses your location to make an educated guess at which one of the many Alder Roads in the world you might have actually wanted to go to. I counted only two hiccups in an entire day’s work: one when it wanted to send me to Hedge End (which is the other side of the Southampton conurbation to where I was working) and one when it wanted to send me to Birmingham. Granted, one of those mistakes was pretty large, but given that it understood me on all the 50+ other occasions throughout the day, I think I can forgive it.

I find myself wondering if voice recognition will actually become particularly widespread or accepted. Apple now includes Siri with Mac OS as well as iOS, Microsoft has Cortana in more recent revisions of its operating systems, Google seems keen to bake voice recognition into Android and all its services and even my TV will let you talk to it. The technology is certainly there and seems to work reasonably well in most cases — certainly considerably better than it did even just a few short years ago — but it’s still painfully awkward to use, particularly if you’re in an environment where there are other people around you. And while I’ve seen the benefit of being able to shout at my phone while I’m in my car, I don’t see the same benefit from talking to my computer, TV or games console when its physical controls are right there and allow me to complete the task I want to complete just as quickly “manually”.

I think we’re still lacking a certain degree of artificial intelligence necessary to make voice activated technology truly useful, worthwhile and ingrained in society. The aim, presumably, is to have something along the lines of Computer in Star Trek, where you can say pretty much anything to the voice activated computer and it will successfully parse what you say (within reason) and perform any task from turning the lights on to inverting the phased magnetic resonance coils into a Gaussian feedback loop. Specify parameters.

I wonder whether that’s something that is truly desirable, though. Is it really more convenient to be able to vocalise something you want your computer to do? It probably is for those who aren’t as computer-literate, but then there’s still a chunk of the population who don’t use computers or mobile phones at all. A shrinking chunk, admittedly, but a chunk nonetheless, and I’m not sure fully voice-capable hardware — which will probably still be on the expensive end of the spectrum — will convert that sort of person into being a believer in technology.

Still. “OK Google” helped me find my way around today, and that, at least, impressed me. Perhaps I’ll discover more interesting uses of it in the future.

2468: Empathy


While I’ve worked a number of crap jobs over the years, one positive thing that I do feel I have taken from each and every crap job is a sense of empathy: a feeling that yes, I understand how people who do this every day have it.

Consequently, I find it pretty hard to get mad at people who are just doing their job, sometimes with all manner of obstacles not of their own making in the way.

I try and extend this attitude to everything about life, even those jobs that I haven’t directly done myself; I know what it’s like to have to pay your dues (and indeed am continuing to pay my own dues in the hope that something actually good will happen one day) and, as such, don’t get mad when my order in a restaurant is late, or if a package doesn’t arrive on time, or if someone in customer service isn’t able to help me on this particular occasion.

This doesn’t mean I blindly forgive, obviously; if someone has clearly fucked up somewhere then I’d expect them to be suitably apologetic about it. But the reason for them fucking up in the first place? I might be able to understand that, whether it’s working long hours, working for pay well under what you deserve for challenging, demanding work or having to meet increasingly unreasonable targets from the higher-ups in the company who are completely out of touch with the man on the figurative street.

I like to think this is a generally positive quality in myself, and it’s also one thing that keeps me hanging on when times are tough such as they are at the moment. If nothing else, I am developing “life experience”, coming to understand how all manner of different people experience the world and what they have to put up with from Joe Public.

Joe Public can be an asshole.

Joe Public can, however, also be appreciative of someone who goes out of their way to help them, or someone who does their miserable job with a smile on their face, or someone who simply has a kind and friendly word to share.

I try and fall into the latter category whenever possible, even when it’s tough to do so. To date, my attempts have usually been successful, and even, in a couple of instances, have defused situations of high tension that have arisen for usually stupid reasons.

I derive a small degree of comfort from the fact that every time I do this, I am helping to develop myself as a decent human being. I derive somewhat less comfort from the fact that having empathy for other people is, unfortunately, not a particularly marketable or profitable skill — at least not without expensive training to forge that raw material into something a bit more tangible.

My faith in myself may be at an all-time low thanks to being kicked around repeatedly by all and sundry over the years, but at least I still have this to hold on to, I guess. It’s something. Not much, but it’s something.

2467: Encylopaedia Eorzea


I’m going to do a more detailed write-up on this over on MoeGamer when I’ve read and thoroughly digested everything in this massive tome, but I thought I’d give some initial thoughts here.

Encylopaedia Eorzea is here! Yes, for a long time the Final Fantasy XIV team had been suggesting that a lore book might be on the cards, and at FanFest last week, it was finally revealed. It was put up for sale at the start of this week and seemed to develop a waiting list very quickly; fortunately, I managed to get in early and snag a copy.

£34.99 gets you a formidable hard-backed book over 300 pages in length, printed on gorgeous thick, parchmenty paper and presented in full colour. The book is heavy enough that it would probably do some damage if you smacked someone with it — and you all laughed at Arcanist, Summoner and Scholar’s auto-attack!

The tome as a whole is split into eight different “books”, each dealing with a different aspect of Eorzean lore.

The first, and shortest, concerns “the basics” of the planet Hydaelyn and what makes Her tick, including geography, the relationship between Hydaelyn’s light and Zodiark’s darkness, the Twelve gods in the Eorzean pantheon, and the basics of “aetherology” — the underlying (fictional) science of how the elements interact with one another to create life, magic and other effects.

The second, and one of the longest, concerns Hydaelyn’s history, reflecting on the world’s cycle of Astral and Umbral eras, with the latter’s arrival being heralded by a Calamity of some description — each elementally themed in the case of the first six, and the seventh (used as the initial story catalyst for A Realm Reborn) covering all elements in the sheer magnitude of its disaster. This book is particularly interesting because it gives some background reading on the mysterious ancient civilisations of the Amdapori, the Mhachi and the Allagans, all of whom are explored to a certain degree in the game itself. It also provides a good primer of the storyline for Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, which is no longer playable, but which is concluded through A Realm Reborn’s cycle of raid dungeons, The Binding Coil of Bahamut, The Second Coil of Bahamut and The Final Coil of Bahamut.

The third book provides a primer on the different people of Eorzea and where they came from. It only explores the playable races of Hyur, Elezen, Lalafell, Miqo’te, Roegadyn and Au Ra — those hoping for some information about the Padjali or a hint as to whether or not we’ll ever see Viera in the game will have to keep theorycrafting.

The fourth book is the longest and concerns the geography of Eorzea, including all the zones from A Realm Reborn and Heavensward as well as short look at Ala Mhigo (subject of the upcoming expansion Stormblood) and the Garlean Empire (recurring villains).

The fifth book concerns Hydaelyn’s “servants”, and explores the various characters that you come into contact with throughout the game, right from the main “protagonists” the Scions of the Seventh Dawn to the recently introduced Warriors of Darkness. This section also includes information about groups involved in sidequests in the game, too, such as Hildibrand’s Agents of Inquiry, the organisation NOAH who spearheaded the investigation into the Crystal Tower and a section entirely devoted to more minor NPCs such as those who served as the face of the Relic quests, and poor old Edda, who has had a rough ol’ time of it both during life and in death.

The sixth book looks at Hydaelyn’s “disciplines” — in other words, the playable classes in the game. Interestingly, the book makes no mention of the base classes on which the more familiar “Jobs” are based; the focus is entirely on the higher-level incarnations of the Jobs.

The seventh book concerns Hydaelyn’s “burdens” — the various beast tribes of the realm, and the Primals associated with each of them. This section also looks a little at as-yet underexplored groups such as the gigants, as well as the eikons of the Warring Triad, which we’re halfway through the story for in the game at the time of writing.

The eighth and final book is a bestiary of monsters from around the realm, divided into the various “-kin” categories. It also incluides a look at voidsent, elementals and chimeras.

There is a lot of information in this book, and it’s presented in a clear, enjoyable to read manner. The thing I’ve found most beneficial about it is that it provides a good summary of the various storylines that have unfolded during the game since its launch; this is several years ago now, so it’s not surprising that some details may have slipped many players’ memories! The lore book acts as a good reference guide for those who may have forgotten some of the finer details.

Above all, though, Encyclopaedia Eorzea is clear evidence that the team behind Final Fantasy XIV have built more than just a game. They’ve truly built a world for people to inhabit, which has its own history leading up to today, as well as many more stories yet to tell. And if you flip through it’s pages, you’ll understand just why so many people still like to call Eorzea home.

2466: Mess With the Bull, You Get the Wang


[This should have posted yesterday but didn’t for some reason.]

Been playing some more Shadow Warrior 2 and the more I play it, the more I like it.

It’s certainly quite a different experience to its predecessor in that it’s not a case of “always moving forwards”, like in more traditional first-person shooters. Rather, each of the missions you embark on takes place in a huge open-plan zone with lots of different routes through, around, over and under various obstacles. There’s an element of light randomisation to the environments, so they’re never quite the same each time you play, but there’s enough “handcraftedness” about each of them that they don’t feel like the rather drab, lifeless environments of something that is completely randomly generated.

The thing that makes Shadow Warrior 2 a real joy to play is how agile protagonist Lo Wang is. He was pretty agile in the first game, but the sequel kicks it up a notch. He can double-jump, pull himself up onto ledges, sprint and “dash” a short distance in any direction, even in the air. All of these different ways of getting around make the game very much feel like a first-person character action game rather than a simple-first person shooter.

One thing I’ve been really enjoying is that you can build Wang to focus on the type of gameplay you enjoy. If you particularly enjoy getting up close and personal with enemies — and with Shadow Warrior’s excellent first-person melee combat, who wouldn’t? — it’s possible to equip him with items that boost his melee damage in exchange for some of his ranged damage. Then you can load him out with a variety of different short-range death implements, plug three attachments into each one for specialised situations — one for each element is a good start — and you have an unstoppable killing machine, particularly if you beef up his melee skills such as Sting (charge forwards, do a massive amount of damage) or Vortex (a spinning attack on the spot).

As I noted the other day in my first impressions, Shadow Warrior strikes an excellent balance between this sort of stat-tweaking typically found in a more conventional RPG, and the pure thrills of a fast-paced first-person shooter. The lack of enemy levels means that you’ll never reach a point where a rocket launcher does negligible damage to an enemy; instead, you simply start encountering more varied and fearsome foes as you progress through the game, at which point you might want to consider starting to use some of your more powerful weapons.

You’re not obliged to, though, and that’s nice. If you want to play through the whole game with “Lil’ Wang”, his starting katana, you can. If you want to completely ignore the attachments system, you can. If you want to ignore melee combat and play it as a shooter, you can — there are plenty of different guns to enjoy. And the various unlockable skills and powers you obtain over the course of the game enable you to build Wang in a variety of different ways.

And this isn’t even touching on the script, which manages to balance laugh-out-loud humour with some genuinely dramatic moments, much as its predecessor did. It’s delightful in its political incorrectness; a real thumbing of the nose to the perpetually offended who, let’s face it, probably weren’t ever going to play a game like this anyway. And the main story itself is compelling enough to keep you playing, with a veritable encyclopaedia of background reading available in game to flesh out the world and characters.

Shadow Warrior has well and truly grown up. Shadow Warrior 2 is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played for a while, and I hope it receives the recognition — and sales — it deserves.

2465: Keijo!!!!!!!!


I watched the first episode of a new anime called Keijo!!!!!!!! today. This is an anime that I became aware of after Kotaku did one of its sadly predictable outraged articles about, dubbing it “deplorable”. (After that, a number of people I know actually watched it, and had good things to say about it.)

“I don’t care that it’s well-animated,” writes the apparent latest “name to avoid” on Kotaku, Cecilia D’Anastasio. “I don’t care that the women have discernible personalities—no cookies for you. It is beside the point that Keijo!!!!!!!! was previously a manga. It could have died in obscurity. Now it’s on Crunchyroll.”

But what has got this angry young woman so infuriated? Well, here’s the premise: Keijo is a fictional sport somewhat akin to sumo wrestling, only on platforms floating on water. The aim of a Keijo match is to be the last one standing; if you fall into the water or touch the platform with anything other than your feet, you lose. It is a contact sport, but you are only allowed to touch other competitors with either your arse or your chest. In other words, it’s Dead or Alive XTreme’s “Butt Battle” taken to the next level.

Keijo!!!!!!!! is a sports anime through and through, focusing on protagonist Nozomi as she strives to realise her dreams and be the best at a sport she has come to love. Like most sports anime, there’s a heavy element of exaggerated action in there, with the Keijo battles themselves incorporating all sorts of physically improbable/impossible stunts, including a girl who is so fast she can smack people in the jaw with her arse and knock them out before they even have time to react to her presence.

I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but it’s already clear that each of the cast members introduced are there for different reasons. Nozomi is there as the typical “underdog” that we’re supposed to root for through the series, and she’s a likeable, spunky character that sits well in the lead role. Besides her, we have the older woman that everyone looks up to, the “rival”, the clumsy idiot, the shy one (who is inevitably going to “snap” at some point, since she was already showing signs of it when Nozomi got a bit too close for comfort in this episode) and plenty of others besides.

There’s a wide variety of different personality types on display — and a wide variety of body types, too, unusually for anime that focuses on female characters. Nozomi is relatively “normal” in stature; her best friend is small but with a formidable butt; her comrade from trials is a tall, muscular young woman and their instructor — dubbed “The Siren” — is a rather portly mature woman who would doubtless be a formidable opponent in a Keijo match; the first episode ends just as Nozomi and her classmates are preparing for their first training session with her.

Inevitably, given the subject matter, there’s a fair amount of fanservice going on, but any lingering boob or booty shots come during the Keijo matches themselves, which kind of makes sense, given that’s where the “action” is, so to speak. Outside of the Keijo matches, we get to know the girls themselves and see that, so far, they all appear to be well-defined, likeable characters that I’d certainly like to know more about.

Keijo!!!!!!!! may not be an entirely original concept — aside from the fictional sport that it’s themed around, the show seems to follow the standard “sports anime” formula fairly closely — but it proceeds with style, charm and so many likeable characters that I find myself wondering quite how joyless you have to be to dub it in any way “deplorable”.

But then, if you read D’Anastasio’s article you’ll see that the sort of person who does think Keijo!!!!!!!! is “deplorable” isn’t exactly the sort of person who seems willing to even attempt to engage with it or see what’s really going on. Much easier to judge it purely on its premise than to actually do some research, after all.

Sigh. One day we’ll have “critics” who actually care about their jobs… maybe.