Monday, April 25, 2005

Bark: Why videogaming isn't a complete waste of time

My Other Half and I were visiting friends in Essex over the weekend, and I had a very close call on the M25 just short of the M11, when a complete and utter muppet decided he wanted to be in the same space my car was currently occupying in the outside lane.

The traffic was fairly heavy, but still doing around 65-70mph in the outside lane, and I'm keeping an eye on the traffic around me, because I basically don't trust other drivers about as far as I could chuck their cars. I'm fully alongside this guy in a 15 year old Ford Scorpio, and I see him starting to drift out of his lane, without indicating. I sound my horn for about 5 seconds to warn him I'm there, because he clearly hadn't seen me, but you'd think at least he could hear me, right? Wrong. He puts on his indicator and steers out FASTER. I have to take avoiding action into the central reservation, which thankfully isn't just an armco barrier, but has a couple of metres of run-off before one of those wire rope barriers. So I'm half-straddling the central reservation and the outside lane of the motorway, and slam on the anchors, before ducking back onto the carriageway, missing the barrier by all of about 8 inches. The guy behind me must've had kittens when he saw this idiot pull out on me, because he had absolutely nowhere to go if I'd hit the barrier, and would have collected me, probably with rather fatal consequences, given the speeds involved.

It's a testament to all those dozens of hours I've put in on Project Gotham 2 and Rallisport Challenge 2 that I've got the speed of thought and the speed of reaction to have that happen and avoid any damage to the car at all. It all happened so fast that it's all down to innate car control ability; something I've finely honed on the above games over the last few months. I don't know if the guy in the Scorpio was drunk, on drugs or just willfully stupid, but he's going to be sorry that I had the presence of mind to take his registration. G606 BLF, you're going to get a very nasty surprise in the next day or two...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bark: TV Dinner

I bet you're wondering what the hell I'm doing up at quarter past four on a Sunday morning... well, it's not because I've been playing World Of Warcraft. My account's been frozen again, coinciding with yet another patch, ironically because they've not taken payment from my Switch card, even after I set up the Direct Debit a SECOND TIME after the previous patch broke my account. Of course, I couldn't find this out on Friday night when my account stopped working, because their Account Management pages were down again. I fear for the people who're going to buy the extra 250,000 copies that were shipped to Europe this week, because Blizzard's systems clearly aren't coping as it is. If things keep going on like this, I’m going to cancel my account. I’m willing to give them one more chance because it’s such a good game, but I don’t think I’m going to invest in a 6 month subscription. I’ll sign up for 3 months and see how it goes, but I’m not optimistic.

My reason for being up so late is because I need an internal clock reset, after the shift to British Summer Time last weekend - it always seem to foul up my sleeping patterns, so I'm staying up with the intent of not going to sleep before 10pm on Sunday, which should hopefully give me a good night's sleep before Monday. With so much time to kill, and my gaming appetite still somewhat reduced due to the lack of sufficiently interesting new titles around at the moment, I got myself a Sloppy Guiseppe pizza and a 4-pack of Stella Artois from Sainsburys, and had a night in front of the TV. Though before I went shopping, I have to confess I watched Flash Gordon on Channel 4. It's not a classic by any means, but it is great fun, and Queen's score is fab, in a cheesy funk kind of way.

I found my self somewhat uncharacteristically unable to watch the News today. The coverage of Pope John-Paul II's death has almost physically made me sick. The total hypocrisy and sycophancy oozed out by the media in the last 24 hours reminds me of the absolute feeding frenzy surrounding the death of Princess Diana. One quote from an ITN correspondent was eerily reminiscent of Tony Blair's "People's Princess" statement; about how someone he'd spoken to in St. Peter's Square thought John Paul II was always "Our Pope". Why not come out and just say it? The People's Polish Pope. And all this talk of "lucid and serene to the end" and "abandoning himself to God's will"... it could make me fucking vomit. Not to mention that this is the man who condemned the use of contraception in Africa, a continent deeply affected by AIDS, an edict that surely condemned many Africans to needless deaths. And let's not even go into the Catholic church's progressive attitude to homosexuality or the need to prosecute priests who abuse children... Apologies if this offends anyone reading, but if I see a spade, I don't call it a shovel, see what I'm saying?

Of far more interest to me today were the rather amusing fisticuffs between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer during the Newcastle United/Aston Villa game, so much so that I took the opportunity of my good lady's absence to watch Match Of The Day. Let's just say neither of them would give Lennox Lewis a run for his money. Hell, I bet they'd bet their arses handed back to them on a plate by Amir Khan on that showing. I bet the media hacks are creaming in their shorts at the headlines that will come out of this particular incident. There's no doubt that it's unacceptable behaviour for a footballer, and that they both deserved to get sent off, and it'll be interesting to see if the police press charges - which they surely would do if you took a swing like that at someone you'd just walked out of the pub with. The post-match press conference was just as hilarious. Both players apologised to the fans and the management, but not to each other... hmm, funny that.

After the football, I got around to watching the last few episodes of Cowboy Bebop (for the uninitiated, a Japanese sci-fi anime series), and also finally got around to watching another anime DVD my friend Paul lent seemingly eons ago; a psychological thriller called Perfect Blue.

As I'm listening to the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack as I write, I guess I'll start with that. I was introduced to Cowboy Bebop a little over a year ago when I was lent the first couple of episodes on DVD by the incorrigibly irascible Richard Cobbett, anime enthusiast and videogames journalist extraordinaire, whom I've known for several years via the medium of the Internet. I'm certainly no expert when it comes to anime, so when I told Richard my taste in mainstream films and expressed an interest in watching some titles from the genre, Bebop was one of the titles he judged as being compatible to my tastes (the others being Hellsing and Read Or Die), and, as he usually is, he was spot on.

Bebop is a series with great characters; by that I mean that they’re all interesting, singularly flawed and have shadowy pasts, which are gradually revealed to you during the course of the series. The art direction has real flair and panache, with a strong mix of futuristic and classical themes. The 26 episodes of the series mix character development, stylish action, thrills and pathos equally, with slapstick humour and surrealism thrown in for good measure. The writer also isn’t afraid to give the main characters an absolute kicking either, which is refreshing – the heroes don’t always get it all their own way, and neither do the ancillary recurring characters, such as the presenters of Big Shot, the Bounty Hunters’ network show. This is typified in the ending to the series, which I wouldn’t dream of ruining here, of course. All I’ll say is that the conclusion to the series (with a two-part story that ties up the majority of the lingering questions hanging over the pasts of the main characters) is outstanding – even though there are a few duff episodes, the series really struck a chord with me. If you’ve never ventured into the realms of anime, it’s a series well worth watching, for both its aesthetic beauty, commentary on human nature and philosophical poignancy.

Perfect Blue, on the other hand, is much more down to Earth. It’s a very human story of a young Pop Idol turned actress struggling with the change of lifestyle, and the change in her public image from clean cut pop princess to serious actress. Mima (the lead character) is a vulnerable young woman of 21, who falls prey to her own insecurities about the her change in professional, wondering if she did the right thing – her insecurities being fuelled by the inexplicable murders of people associated with her career shift. One of the cover reviews speculates that the film would be comparable to a Walt Disney cartoon feature directed by Hitchcock, which isn’t too far from the truth. The film is tautly plotted and moves along swiftly, building the intrigue steadily as the bodies begin to stack up. There are several very clever blurrings of the boundaries between the real world and the soap opera Mima is acting in, allowing you to feel the ambiguity Mima feels between the real world and the world in which she is prey to her perceived enemies, who are unable to let go of the old pop-idol image. The final twist to the story is likewise excellent – a twist Hitchcock himself would be proud of. I enjoyed it immensely; I really don’t know why it took me so long to get around to watching it. I really need to make more time to watch films…