Sunday, 26 January 2014

My Top 5 Games of 2013

Following my little Hobbit rant I feel like it’s time to talk about what I enjoyed last year, so here are my top 5 games from 2013 that I played in 2013. If there are any suspicious absences that’s probably because I haven’t had a chance to play everything yet, like Tomb Raider, or Grand Theft Auto V which I’m only about a third of the way through.

So, in no particular order (because if I tried to think of an order, it would probably change every few minutes)...

BioShock Infinite

The long awaited sequel deserves credit for its incredible attention to detail. The gunplay is chaotic and overdone, perhaps, but despite forcing you down a linear path like so many of today’s single player shooters, Infinite provides perhaps the most spine-tinglingly well realised setting of any game to date. The first half-hour alone does more to generate intrigue than any number of other so called ‘narrative-driven’ shooters combined. Irrational took the first BioShock’s philosophical approach and decided to dance all over it with a smattering of inter-dimensional craziness. Whether you enjoy the universe-twisting shenanigans or consider them a step too far for the series, there’s no doubt that Infinite leaves an impression. 

The Last of Us

Gaming’s equivalent of Oscar-bait. Impressively designed, technically pristine and sporting a very well constructed narrative. It’s very nice to see a big budget game that cares more about character development than showcasing the latest explosion rendering techniques. Certainly a step in the right direction from Naughty Dog, who I feel used to fall victim to the ‘set piece first, narrative later’ approach. You won’t find any ‘Nathan Drake gets captured by pirates’ interludes here, although I do feel that the game occasionally risks wringing out a few too-many repetitive scenarios. There’s only so many times you can be forced to prop a ladder up against a wall before you start losing interest. But that’s just nitpicking. The Last of Us is a clever, bold, effective masterpiece.

The Wonderful 101

Niche, oddball and wonderfully over-the-top. This is why Platinum are possibly my favourite developers - you just won’t find this sort of madness elsewhere. It’s like someone threw Pikmin and director Shinji Mikami’s own Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta into a blender with, of all things, Power Rangers. The learning curve is steep thanks to ridiculously convoluted mechanics, but as you get stuck in and figure things out for yourself, everything just clicks. The game even dares to properly-legitimise the Wii U Gamepad screen with some amusing multi-tasking sections. The final boss battle lasts almost 2 hours, upping the spectacle to ridiculous proportions without even becoming a drag. It’s a genuinely bonkers action game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as the struggling Nintendo console’s biggest cult classic.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

I’m just so glad this exists - I wouldn’t have imagined this sort of project ever actually coming to fruition. For the uninitiated, Blood Dragon is a totally standalone spin-off from the also-excellent Far Cry 3 that pays tribute to every cheesy 80s sci-fi action movie… by playing like a cheesy 80s sci-fi action movie. It’s a loveable parody in the same vein as the recent Grindhouse films. A little on the easy side, perhaps, but you can’t go wrong when your game has Kyle Reese himself, Michael Biehn on voiceover duties. Or the excellent soundtrack that does an uncannily great job of recreating the synthesisers used back in the day. Or, most importantly, glowing neon dragons that shoot laser beams out of their eyes.

Rayman Legends

There’s been some good platformers this year - everyone’s been talking up Mario 3D World recently, but I’m going to give this round to the limbless whatever-he-is. This former Nintendo exclusive controversially ended up on a whole bunch of other consoles, yet having played through the entirety of this insanely gorgeous side-scroller with the touch-screen aided co-op, I can’t imagine anything comparing to the fluidity of the original Wii U version. Michel Ancel’s team outdid themselves with the level of creativity and variety on offer here, with a more balanced difficulty level than Origins and, somehow, even more beautiful visuals.

Honourable mentions:
Super Mario 3D World, Metal Gear Rising, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 2 and I have to mention Pikmin 3 somewhere or my brother will moan.

I’ll probably do a similar blog post with 2013 movies eventually, but I feel like I’ve got to catch up on a lot of the big hits first.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Box Interrogation

All right, now here’s a script I wrote for an unproduced audio sketch back in 2012. I’ve sat on the script for a while, rewritten it a couple times and think it’s probably finally time to show it…  It’s an interrogation scene with a twist. A rather obvious twist. Bold lines are the interrogator, non-bold lines are the suspect.


Bring the suspect in.

Woah… Where am I? What the hell is this place? Ah… Who's that? Hello?

Good afternoon.

You’re gonna have to tell me sooner or later, what am I doing here?

I think we both know what you're doing here…

I don't know what you're talking about… I was just sitting, minding my own business and then you guys… picked me up and threw me in the back of a van. Do you even know what I'm made of?

You're a suspect in the murder of a certain Patrick Stockwell.

The murder… Oh… oh god, my god… he's dead?

Did you know him?

Yeah, I knew Packie. We were close, once. Used to see him all the time, till the day he had to move away. Shame… How did he die?

Started out as just a normal day at the factory. One minute everything’s fine, the next he’s flat on the floor. Something crushed him. He died instantly…

And… you, you think I did this? Seriously? How?

That's what I'm here to find out. If you'll open up to me, I'll make this nice and easy for you… 

I didn't crush him! I didn't!

You're a sharp little bugger aren't you…

I'm so tired… please… can’t you just let me go?

Not until you promise to be straight with me.

Straight? I'm always straight…

Then open up! I can't let you leave until you give me your side of the story...

You want my side? You can have it…

What were you doing at 5pm last Tuesday?

I was just sitting over there, on the corner the whole time.

On the corner?


Doing what exactly?

You know, just sitting, waiting. Waiting for a delivery, I think? I was gonna get myself topped up on a few supplies…

What kind of supplies?

Typical household stuff, food, you know, I was feeling pretty empty that day.

You’re full to the brim now aren't you…

I may have put on a bit of weight, yes. What's your problem?

Don’t be such a square. It looks like you're hiding something. I have reason to suspect you were involved in a certain drug smuggling scandal, too, but I’m willing to let that slide if you just tell me the truth… Did you kill Patrick?

I wasn’t even there! 

How do you explain this image, taken at the scene of the crime?

Wha… But, I mean, how's that supposed to prove anything?

I assure you our analysis was thorough, we've come to a conclusion that it's you. We've got a perfect match from every angle.

You… you've got me mistaken for some other…

You really expect me to believe you? This evidence could tear you down…

Listen, I didn't do it. I ain’t guilty of nothing. Don't I get power of attorney in any of this?

Looks like you've got the power of three… three different attorneys.

I have rights you know, and right angles… to come at this from. I'm innocent! 

Sigh, looks like I'm gonna have to resort to some… edgier... off the record methods…

Hey, what? What do you mean, edgier? Huh? What are you doing? Don’t touch my sides, I’m very fragile!

You're sides are gonna be the least of your problems by the time I'm finished with you. Let's see what you're really made of...

Stop cornering me! What are you going to do? Give me splinters?

You think it's funny don't you? You think you can just fold yourself all over this goddamn society without us noticing?

Ahhhh! Help! Please don’t tear me apart! Sob… Look at me, I'm in pieces!

I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Pull yourself together… I just want some answers.

Hahaha… You can’t prove anything.

You two-faced son of a bitch. We’ve got it all on tape. We know it was you.

Hey, I ain't no two-faced son of a bitch, look at me. What am I?

You’re a common criminal.

All right, I’ll level with you. I did it. I murdered Packie. Big deal. The one thing, I swear, the one thing I can’t stand being called… is two faced. Look at me! This way up!


Don’t act like you don’t know. Look at me. What am I?

You’re a murderer.


Yeah… Obviously. That’s why we call it a box interrogation. Chief, take him away…

I’m a SIX faced son of a bitch. Get it right next time.


(Trivia time: Inspired by a pointless wallpaper made by my friend Ryan, along with a bunch of comments I posted to it under the name tank2tank)

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Return of The Beards: My thoughts on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Definition of Smug, sorry, The Desolation of Smaug (turns out I’m not the first one to make that joke) is the latest self-indulgent drawn out visually exhausting trek across fiction’s most beloved fantasy world viewed through the eyes of New Zealand’s most over-affluent fanboy-turned-director Peter Jackson. If that sentence seemed rather lengthy then you’ll probably get where I’m going with this.

Okay, everyone knows these movies are long. Everyone knows Jackson is obsessed with squeezing as much detail as possible out of background details and functionally irrelevant plot points. Fine. It’s just that for the first time in the saga, I didn’t feel any satisfaction once the credits rolled. It’s probably not much of a spoiler to say that The Desolation of Smaug ends on an abrupt note, but it’s almost as if we’re getting half a movie here, arbitrarily cut in half before anything of real relevance happens - a by-product of the original two planned Hobbit movies being cut into three?

Wait a minute! Surely this was better than the first film? The one where, you know, we had to suffer through Bilbo walking around his house for 45 minutes? Actually, I have to disagree. I thought An Unexpected Journey kept things flowing with a greater level of humour and charm, with the Gollum riddles section standing out as a highlight of the entire franchise for me. It was flawed, sure, with pointless extra scenes giving screen-time to some old faces (literally) and the aforementioned slow start. Maybe it was the nine year wait we’d had since Return of the King, but I didn’t feel short-changed by the first Hobbit. I’ll stop short of calling it a good movie because I’m worried if I watched it again now I’d be less kind.

I think the main problem is that while it was entertaining, the foundations laid by the first film weren’t particularly strong. The only way a trilogy that tells a single, focused story can work is if the first part does enough to make you care about the characters and their plight. Martin Freeman is an excellent Bilbo but he has to share screen time with a cast of 13 incredibly dull dwarves that I didn’t care about in the first film and certainly couldn’t care less about now. In trying to embellish as much of the story as possible, Jackson frequently shoves Bilbo in the background and gives Thorin "Boring" Oakenshield the lead role.

For a story called ‘The Hobbit,’ it might as well be re-named ‘The Beards,’ since it seems like Jackson would rather devote screen time to the unconvincing facial hair worn by 95% of the male cast. (Incidentally if you thought the facial hair looked bad in the first film just wait until Stephen Fry shows up.) Apparently beards are so important in these movies they even got WETA to animate them digitally for some scenes. I’m not making this up. They paid people to animate beards. Groundbreaking visual effects these are not. I feel like I’m getting a bit off track.

My point is this ‘middle of the trilogy’ film doesn’t even try to do anything interesting with any of the characters and because of the first film’s failure to establish reasons to care my interest was lost very early on. There’s a handful of promising scenes such as Bilbo’s dark turn in the forest; but it’s such a small part of the overall movie that it gets quickly forgotten amongst an endless cycle of dull action and padding. The whole movie builds up to Smaug’s appearance, which starts off well but devolves into a horribly boring action sequence that’s almost incomprehensible. I have no idea what was supposed to be happening during the last 20 minutes. There was a lot of fire and dwarves and beards flying around and I’m pretty sure the droid factory from Attack of the Clones showed up at one point.

Don’t get me started on Legolas’ pointless appearance, or the cringe-inducing ‘there could be anything down my trousers’ love triangle, or the fact that Gandalf’s sub-plot doesn’t go anywhere, or the CGI bee that lands on Bilbo’s nose and looks like the worst visual effect ever conceived this side of the Amazing Bulk

There’s an argument that The Hobbit book was written as if Bilbo was reciting it from memory - anything that didn’t matter to him was left out (to be later filled out through Tolkien’s obsession with appendices and whatnot). Jackson’s vision of The Hobbit is to give us the ‘complete’ version of the story all cobbled together while showcasing his production company’s outstanding ability to render more and more beards. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that - for the most part the film still holds up as a piece of fantasy entertainment. The problem is, in my opinion, the excessive approach just isn’t worth it - the story is no longer about Bilbo, it’s about beards talking to more beards, with extra beards thrown in for good measure. The Hobbit stood the test of time because it was a concise, engaging, simple little novel aimed at a younger generation. Sometimes we don’t need embellishment. Or CGI beards.

Blogstandard Introductions

My new year’s resolution was to make a blog. Apparently. I decided that a few moments ago. So that’s what this is. Hopefully. I’ll probably change my mind in a minute. Perhaps my real new year’s resolution was to come up with multiple new year’s resolutions throughout the year in some kind of bid to make me do lots of new things.

Anyway, for those of you who have ended up here by some freak browsing accident, I’ll just set the scene a little bit. I’m a maths graduate who happens to be writing a novel and… sorry, I’ll just give you a few seconds to wrap your head around that.

All done? Right, I’m starting this blog up because I figured it would be a good idea to have some kind of an outlet to post stuff on. You can expect a few reviews, general musings on topics I’m interested in, maybe a few snippets of stories and scripts I've worked on if I’m feeling adventurous. 

I’ve been on YouTube for a long time, generally doing bits of animating, editing and video mashups which have always been fun to knock up, if not a bit mindless. This blog isn’t gonna be like that. Except for when it is. Anything could happen...