Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bark: Foodstuff of legend

I haven't done this here in a very long while, but I'm going to give you one of my favourite recipes that I make on pretty much a weekly basis. I swear, one of these days I will write a cookbook. Not that I think I'm the next Jamie Oliver or anything - I realise that I'm a man of relatively modest talent, but while I might not be truly exceptional at any one thing (apart from being a drunken, self-aggrandising, narcissistic prick, perhaps), I would contend that I'm better than the average bear at a great many things, and if the feedback I get from Fleur's colleagues at work are anything to go by (given the way I'm told they react to the lunchboxes I make for her), cooking is one of them. Indeed, my tomato sauces are rapidly becoming the stuff of legends.

But enough with the cheerfully shameless self-promotion. Here's the recipe.

(Very generously serves 2-3)
Ingredients:

150g of good quality pasta (I prefer linguine or fusilli lunghi bucati for the shape)
400g tin of cherry tomatoes (Sainsbury's do some terrific ones in their 'Taste the Difference' - or as I like to call it, 'Pay Through the Nose' - Range... but with tinned tomatoes, spending a few extra pennies really does give you much more in terms of flavour)
3-4 cloves of garlic - crushed, grated or very thinly sliced
2 small red onions - cut in half and thinly sliced
6-8 large button mushrooms (or if you really want to be fancy, use a pack of oyster mushrooms - just be aware that these will take longer to fry to really give you a good taste in the sauce), sliced into 0.5-0.75cm chunks
1 large courgette - cut in half length-ways, and then sliced at a thickness of around 0.5cm
1 large carrot - cut into 'julienne' batons, about 3cm long
1 ramiro red pepper - cut into 1cm wide strips (these are the pointed peppers, rather than the capsicum, bell-shaped ones. slightly more expensive, but they're a lot sweeter)
1 pack of Swedish pork & beef meatballs - typically 400g or so (if you prefer, you could make these yourself. I have my own 'secret' recipe that I'm simply not going to give out for free on a blog - I'm saving it for my cookbook!)
Salt & Pepper - to taste
1 pack of fresh Basil - 25-40g will be plenty
Dried oregano
Dried Italian Herb Mix
1 25cl glass of good quality red wine (something really gutsy, like a Californian Shiraz or a South African Merlot)
Red Chilli flakes (as many as you dare!)
Tomato puree (to thicken the sauce)
2 Beef stock cubes (for extra meaty punch)
Gran Padano or Parmesan cheese - grated, to serve (I like Gran Padano, as it's slightly less salty and a little cheaper than Parmesan)

How to do it:

Fry the onions in some olive oil over a medium heat for several minutes until they start to turn translucent. Add the garlic and stir gently until the garlic starts to fry (do not let it burn!). Add the mushrooms to the pan with a little extra oil and season with a little salt and pepper. (Make sure you season as you go - this will prevent your dish from turning out to be horribly bland after you've spent an hour slaving over the stove).
Once the mushrooms start to colour, add a little wine (about half the glass) to deglaze the pan and then add the courgette. Let the courgette fry for a minute or two and then add the meatballs and then crumble the stock cubes over the entire pan evenly. Stir in the remaining half of the glass wine to prevent the stock cube residue from burning to the bottom of the pan. Once the stock cubes have infused into the wine liquour, add the tinned tomatoes (including the juice) and season with more salt, pepper, the chilli flakes and a sprinkling of the dried oregano and Italian herb mix. Reduce the heat to low, add the carrot and the red pepper, cover and leave to cook for at least twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you leave the sauce to cook, the better the end result will be - but twenty to thirty minutes will be sufficient for most people. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add more wine if the sauce is becoming a little too dry.

Now put on the pasta and cook according to the instructions. You can add a little olive oil and salt into the water, if desired. When the pasta requires just five more minutes, shred the fresh basil leaves and add them to the sauce, stirring thoroughly. Taste the sauce again and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Be careful with the salt level, as the Gran Padano or Parmesan contains quite a lot of salt and will alter the balance of taste in the sauce quite significantly when the dish is served. But don't be afraid of adding extra pepper - a bit of extra bite will help balance the richness given to the sauce by the wine. If the sauce requires thickening (or a bit of sweetening, should you have gone a little overboard with the chilli) use the tomato puree to give the sauce a nice thick consistency and boost the flavour of the tomatoes.

Once the pasta has finished cooking, drain and serve immediately. Finish the plate with a grating of cheese, to the personal preference of the diner. (The more the better, as far as I'm concerned, but who am I to dictate?)

Enjoy with some good company (you'll have to find your own source of that, I'm afraid) and a large glass of decent red wine (ideally the same as you used in the cooking).

Byte: Even the mighty can be humbled

This story has been doing the rounds on RPS and all the other usual games websites for about a week now, so I guess it was about time the BBC caught up.

I think it's quite funny that the guy who made the announcement is called "Humble", given the breathtaking arrogance and contempt EA displayed towards their customers during the whole Spore debacle. Clearly though, it's a step in the right direction, even if it is, technically speaking, a step backwards. But it does go to show that consumer pressure can work, even with big, lumbering, small-brained, bean-counting behemoths like EA.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bark: Why I will never buy a contract phone ever again

It's just taken me the best part of FORTY MINUTES to sit through a phone call with a "customer service" centre somewhere in India to get them to cancel the phone that has been sitting around uselessly (other than the odd call and text message by my dear lady) for the best part of a year. They really take the piss leaving you on hold for five minutes at a time to "get details", which, if their databases are anything up to scratch, will already have all the information sitting there right on screen in front of them by the time they put you on hold. (Oh, and having The Beatles singing "Here comes the sun" while I'm on hold seems wildly inappropriate. Besides, I can't stand the fucking Beatles...)

I've designed database tables and applications for the MoD and the British Airport Authority in my time - NOTHING fucking takes five minutes to retrieve. I could get VAX systems running faster than that. It's nothing more than a cheap tactic to try and make people give up on the call, which you're paying for the privilege for. What's worse is that the call is a courtesy on my behalf. I have internet banking, I could burn their direct debit in an instant. But no, they fuck you around for half an hour hoping that you're some monkey who's wondering how the phone works in the first place, on the off chance that they can out-wait you and make you forget the whole thing.

So fuck you [company that will remain nameless to deprive them of publicity], at least with a pay-as-you-go phone you can smash the fucker with a hammer and throw it away with impunity if you get sick of it.

Bark: Nutts over-run by squirrels

You couldn't make this stuff up. I'm such a sucker for squirrel stories.

Bark: Keyboards at the ready

Script Frenzy is one of those things that probably wouldn't exist if it weren't for the internet. The idea is inherently crazy - get a whole bunch of people to simultaneously start writing scripts for just about every single form of entertainment under the sun, give them just 30 days to do it in and see what shakes out at the end of the month.

Having picked my project and done a few days 'pre-writing' (i.e. working out what will go into my 100 pages), I'm almost literally itching to get going. I hope I'm a big enough cinema buff to be able to translate the ideas in my head to the page, but like with my failed attempt at NaNoWriMo last year, I've not really gone for an easy option.

I've had to make some drastic cuts to the story (but not the main thrust of the plot) and I'm going to follow Kurt Vonnegut's advice on story-writing ("Be a sadist") in order to fit in some of the game's characters into the limited time and screen space I have available, but I think things are shaping up quite well. In an ideal world, I could do with an extra 15-20 pages to put in more of the original story, but I suppose part of the exercise is learning how to do more with less.

Of course, the one slightly disappointing thing is that even if I do manage to finish the script and if, by chance, it's the best script since The Usual Suspects (one of the reference scripts I plan on buying this weekend to help fill me in on how it should be formatted, incidentally), it's not like I can just go out and sell it. I'm not sure what the film rights for Knights of the Old Republic would go for, but one thing's for sure - I don't have that kind of money.

But as a writer's exercise, I'm enjoying myself, even with the preparatory work. After Script Frenzy is done and dusted, I might go back to my NaNoWriMo and try rewriting it as a TV script, since the story might suit a contemporary TV drama more than a novel.

I definitely picked a great time to get bitten by the writing bug again, anyway. Fun times ahead.

Bark: Well, that made my weekend

I was in stitches over this story at the weekend. There's nothing quite so entertaining as seeing a politician squirm when they know they've been caught red-handed and there's absolutely nothing they can do or say that will wriggle them out of the situation.

But the real joke is that we let these morons run our country.

Byte: Games *are* good for you - OFFICIAL

Finally, a meticulous, long-term SCIENTIFIC study that proves that videogames don't eat babies or turn everyone who touches them into sub-human child killers. Eat that, Daily Mail!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Byte: Distilled digital fun

I've just submitted my review for Peggle (the Xbox 360 Live Arcade version), so you can expect to see that up at the usual place in the next few days. Ahh, Peggle. Joy of joys. If there's a better way to spend 800 points on Xbox Live Arcade, I've yet to find it. (Though I will grant you that Rez HD and Duke Nukem 3D are arguably equally worthy)

If you're thinking that I've been doing a lot of writing lately, then I would have to agree with you. I'm definitely in a writing mood right now, especially with Script Frenzy just around the corner. So there's going to be quite a bit more coming from me in the next few weeks. I want to try and get Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment reviewed before the end of the week, since I have Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and EVE Online incoming.

So it's probably just as well that my lady will be heading home to France for 10 days around Easter, because I'll be doing a lot of hammering away on my keyboard over the next month, and she'd probably go mad due to all that tapping if she were here the whole time.

There's a very big reason why I'm feeling driven to write at the moment, but for that same large reason, I can't talk about it here. So I'm taking a bit of refuge in being able to talk about other things and getting my catharsis through that instead. I think it may even actually be working, too, which is great news for the Videogamer guys, because I've probably done more reviews for them this year already than I did last year as a whole. It's also nice to be approaching April and still have games that I want to write about, too. Last year's post-Christmas lull was particularly awful, but with my acquisition of the 360 and some really promising titles on the horizon (thankfully not all lumped into March, April and October) we might actually have a gaming summer this year that's worth writing home about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Byte: All about EVE

EVE and I have had a bit of a torrid affair over the years. She's very intelligent, number literate, economically brilliant, deep, complicated and has more recently learned how to dress sexily, blossoming from being a bit plain into something incomparably gorgeous, but we haven't been on speaking terms for some time.

(I'm anthropomorphising an MMORPG, how sad is that?)

I am not a man without a heart, however. I'm willing to forgive and forget and grant final chances. So over the next few weeks I'm going to be opening my arms and welcoming EVE back into my life with a great big hug and a sloppy kiss (no tongues). Of course, I'm not expecting that she'll put out on a first date (okay, maybe I'm overplaying this anthropomorphism now), but with the new Apochrypha update and retail release, I'm hoping that enough will have changed within the last 18 months for me to get over that initial learning curve that's like attending your first rock climbing lesson and effectively being told "There's Everest. Easy, mate."

All will be revealed in due time, no doubt. Expect a review on Videogamer in the next couple of weeks.

(Note: I'm painfully aware that EVE isn't a game that can be effectively played solo. If you want to volunteer to help me re-learn the ropes - as I will be restarting from scratch with a press account - feel free to shout out in the comments. Any help would be much appreciated.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bark/Byte: Adaptation

Even after my miserable failure at NaNoWriMo last year, I've decided to join this year's Script Frenzy, where the idea is to write a 100 page script (for TV, film, stage, radio or even a comic) within the 30 days of April.

I've always wanted to try my hand at screenwriting, but a 100 page script in 30 days is quite a tall order to take on, so rather than try to attempt writing an original script in that time, I'm going to take Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and try to adapt it for the screen.

Why? Because it's one of my favourite games ever, and there basically has never been a decent film made of a videogame. And it would be nice to think that I could at least out-do Uwe Boll in terms of quality. Though given my total lack of experience at script writing, that's no guaranteed thing...

I also decided it would be a good idea to write an adapted screenplay, rather than an original one, because it takes out at least 50% of the effort of coming up with a story and a structure for the script. Obviously, trying to pack 25+ hours of game into a 100 page script is going to take some doing, but at least I don't have to worry too much about creating a plot and characters from scratch.

I will undoubtedly have to take quite a few liberties with the original story (particularly in terms of the stuff I'll have to cut), but that's part of the fun and the challenge.

April is also looking like a good month for me to get my head down and do some writing. WoW has ceased to be a factor as a time-sink lately, and my lady is also off to see her parents for 10-12 days over Easter, so I should really be able to use that time to get cracking on the keyboard.

Fingers crossed I'll make better progress with the script than with my NaNoWriMo novel (I've still got to make some time to really go back to that and try and make more headway with it), but I'm looking forward to doing some serious writing over the next couple of months. I really need it right now as a cathartic outlet.

Byte: Pretension LEVEL UP!

My review for The Path went live this morning.

It is interesting to note at this point that given the length of this piece and my previous post, I've probably spent longer writing about The Path than I have playing it. And I think that's just a little bit extraordinary.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Byte: The Path

I've spent the last couple of days reviewing The Path, an independently developed horror game by Tale of Tales.

My spoiler-free review should be going up on Videogamer sometime next week, and normally I wouldn't preempt a review here on my blog, but since a lot of my thoughts on the game are already online, I'm going to post an in-depth account of my experiences and interpretation of the game.

Obviously, I would urge you to go out and play the game for yourself before reading my conclusions, because The Path is designed to be a highly personal experience, and I'd prefer not to prejudice what you might draw from playing the game by reading this first.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

The Path is essentially a six-fold retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, given a modern, surrealist twist. The premise is simple enough: a girl, a forest, a path, a Grandmother in her bed and wolf. There is a lot of freedom in the way you can approach the game, as the interactions you have with the wolves (each of the six girls has a different 'wolf') are entirely voluntary. So while it's possible to take all six girls directly down the path to visit their grandmother, or to collect all the items in the forest and return to the path and avoid the wolf entirely, to do so would not only be really boring, but also miss out on the one thing that makes The Path unique, controversial and so unexpectedly impressive.

I'm going to lay my cards on the table here, put on a double dose of my new eau de toilette (Pretension, by Calvin Klein), and state that The Path is almost certainly the most significant videogame that will be released this year, in terms of evolving the form of what videogames are capable of. I intentionally avoided using horrible corporate language like "paradigm shift" when I reviewed The Path for Videogamer, but that's exactly what I felt when playing the game.

The Path subverts almost every single preconception you have about what you should do when playing a videogame, not only in terms of pacing and story, but also what even constitutes success and failure, and whether a game even needs to be fun to be a compelling experience.

I think that the best way to illustrate this is to describe my own experience with the game, what I thought, how I reached those conclusions, and why (despite its manifold technical shortcomings) this micro-budget indie game stands a very good chance of being my personal game of year, before we've even reached the end of March.

Robin

Robin is the youngest of the six sisters, just nine years old. It's almost inconceivable in today's world that a parent would allow a child that young to even risk wandering off alone in the woods, yet during my childhood, it was commonplace. I was allowed free-reign to go wherever I liked to play outside, even from as young an age of five. Of course, this was before the media frenzy surrounding child abductions and murders that are so luridly given wall-to-wall coverage in the national news, which is why now the very concept strikes an uncomfortable chord. Robin is lively, curious and full of life - like anyone her age. She is also blissfully unaware of the dangers posed by being isolated and alone in the big, wide world and Robin is the one girl that is designed to look closest to archetypal Little Red Riding Hood figure from the original story.

Her wolf (unlike all the others in the game) is a literal one - a werewolf. A childhood monster, but also a force of nature. When she meets the wolf in the graveyard, Robin's first instinct is to play. After all, a wolf to her is nothing more than a big, shaggy dog. She doesn't comprehend the peril she is placing herself in by leaping onto its back.

Robin's story is one of childhood naivety, and is the one story of the six where there is least room for interpretation beyond a literal death. The sequence shown in Grandmother's house after Robin's play with the wolf concludes with a tumble into an open grave. Robin's child-like nature has led her to a needless, senseless death, and given the player's complicity in initiating the encounter with the wolf, this is intended to evoke guilt and remorse on the behalf of the player: that you purposefully led Robin to her death so that you could be told that you successfully completed Robin's chapter of the story (Note: reaching the house safely without interacting with wolf results in 'failure' - you don't move on to the next chapter). Whether intentional or not on the behalf of the developers, for people within the UK at least, Robin's chapter evokes distressing parallels with the story of Madeleine McCann - whose fate remains unknown, following a momentary lapse of parental responsibility - except in the case of Robin, the lapse is intentional on the behalf of the player (Robin's surrogate parental guardian) and the consequences are devastating.

Rose

Rose is a girl who, at eleven years of age, is beginning to mature beyond the first flush of naive childhood and is beginning to appreciate the wonder of the world. Like Robin, Rose also considers the forest her playground, but she has a greater level of understanding of the power of nature. Rose is both in awe and consumed by curiousity and wonder about everything the forest has to offer, from a simple spiderweb cast between the trunks of a pair of trees to the more complex interactions between land, water and sky, as mists and clouds form in the spaces between the wood, the ground and the heavens.

Rose's 'wolf' is an amorphous, vaguely humanoid form living at the centre of the forest's lake, born from the clouds, as rain showers over the water. Unable to resist her innate sense of curiousity, Rose take a boat out into the lake as the rainstorm rages around her. Exhilarated, Rose soars into the air to dance with her wolf, pirouetting through the precipitation. Fade to black...

Rose's story is one of the most difficult to draw a definite conclusion from. Her Grandmother's house sequence is one of the more surreal in the game, finishing up in a swimming pool, with a tree stump at the centre. You could take this to mean a literal death (with the tree stump representing Rose having been cut down in her prime), but given the unthreatening nature of her wolf encounter, I'm more inclined to interpret her in-game 'death' as Rose testing her curiousity against the power of Nature and coming off second best, resulting in a humiliating dunk in the lake, rather than an outright drowning.

It should be said at this point that the Grandmother's house sequence after the wolf encounter starts identically for all the girls. Control of the game is returned to you after the wolf cutscene with the girl lying prone on the path, showing no signs of injury or physical trauma, just a few metres from the gate to the house. Rain pours from the sky and almost all the colour is washed out from the graphics, with only a lurid highlighted border brightening up your character's feet as they shamble disconsolately towards the house, their body language being subdued and lethargic.

While it is fairly clear that these last few steps on their journey after their interactions with the wolf are symbolic of death, it remains open to interpretation as to whether the death in question is literal or allegorical. In the case of Rose, I'm more inclined to the latter of the two possibilities.

Ginger

Ginger, at thirteen years old, is on the cusp between childhood and true self-awareness. Ginger is unashamedly a tomboy: still keen to hold onto her childhood and yet coming to terms with the maturity enforced upon you by age. Ginger is the most masculine of the six sisters, her go-get-'em attitude being reinforced by the comments she makes as she plucks off the pumpkin head of a scarecrow, determined to make it her dinner.

Ginger's wolf is by far the most intellectually challenging, as it is a girl of similar age to Ginger herself and of a similar playful outlook on life. Ginger and her wolf play hide and seek amongst the flowers of a field, as a squadron of ravens watches from above, neatly forming ranks on the telephone wires. Exhausted after their play, Ginger and her wolf fall into the tall grasses of the field, and then we fade out.

My take on Ginger's story is that her wolf represents Ginger's sense of narcissism and her burgeoning sense of her own sexuality. Her wolf is the only one that is explicitly female, and Ginger's post-wolf encounter 'death' actually represents her fear of accepting her own identity and also her fear of rejection.

Ruby

Ruby can be categorised as your archetypal disaffected teenager. Ruby is fifteen, is deeply into self-loathing and craves acceptance, attention and affection. With a metallic brace on one leg and an ornate gothic stocking on the other, Ruby is the most visually striking of the six sisters, though it's not explicitly made clear whether her leg brace is due to some unknown injury, or whether it is simply an affectation.

Ruby meets her wolf at a playground in the woods. He is young, attractive and charming, yet there is a suspicious air surrounding him. When you first see him, he is dragging a rolled up carpet along with him. Is it simply an unwanted carpet, or are there more sinister forces at work? Could there be a body wrapped tightly in those coils of fabric? Undeterred, and perhaps even craving the risk of the unknown, Ruby approaches her wolf and accepts the offer of a cigarette. Is he just disposing of a used carpet, or is he truly a danger to our dear Ruby?

Again, very little (if anything) is made explicitly clear as to what happens after the conclusion of the cutscene, and Ruby's fate is the one most open to interpretation. Is the wolf only interested in Ruby as another potential carpet-roll-dwelling victim, or is he just on an errand to dispose of an old carpet, and simply grateful for Ruby's temporary company? I haven't quite drawn my own conclusions on this one as yet.

Carmen

Carmen exudes self-awareness of her own sexuality and attractiveness. She doesn't walk, but rather prowls, like a cat on the hunt for prey. Carmen is seventeen, old enough to make her own bad decisions and choose her own provocative style of dress. She resents having to run an errand to see her grandmother, so is only too willing to stray from the path. When she finds Rose's lake, she wishes it were warmer, so she could take a swim and tease any men watching. When she finds an old gramophone lying in the forest, she's thrilled - she's got some music to party to! All she needs now is beer and a bloke...

And find them she does, at a campsite in the woods. Carmen heads straight for the beer, enjoying the thrill of the alcohol burning in her bloodstream. Emboldened, she plucks the cap off the head of her 'wolf' (the cap itself has a wolf symbol on the front), revealing his bald head. The woodsman is old, not nearly as attractive as Ruby's wolf and it's implied he is the father of the girl in white, who is playing in her tiny little tent. It's an interesting choice of 'wolf' - given that the woodsman in the original story is the one who saves Little Red Riding Hood from the wolf's belly. Carmen parades around in his hat, implying that their roles have been reversed: she is now the predator, and he is now the prey. Carmen lights the campfire, sits, and she and the wolf/woodsman share the warmth of the fire and the coolness of the beer. Fade to black.

Like Ruby, Carmen's 'ravaging' (the developer's term, not mine) is likely to be one of the most controversial. A literal interpretation would be Carmen is raped and murdered by the 'wolf', but this doesn't ring true for me. The woodsman in the original story saves Little Red Riding Hood by killing the wolf and pulling her alive from its stomach. Yet in this scenario, it's not really clear who is the wolf. Carmen is clearly after sex, and the woodsman is her target. The most interesting interpretation is to consider Carmen both wolf and Little Red Riding Hood in this scenario. So what's the woodsman to do? Is it even possible to save Little Red Riding Hood without killing the wolf within her? And would the woodsman really have sex with Carmen (let alone murder her) with his daughter watching from her tent? I see two possible interpretations that would leave Carmen 'ravaged': either the woodsman rejects her advances and sends her on her way, dealing a fatal blow to her sense of self-esteem and her own attractiveness, or she and the woodsman do have sex and it's not nearly as revelatory or pleasurable as she thought it was going to be, shattering the illusions of her early adulthood sexuality. Or maybe there's a third option: la petite morte (a little death) is a French euphemism for an orgasm, so maybe her 'little death' wasn't so little...

Scarlet

Scarlet is the eldest of the six sisters, at nineteen years old, and she acts as a second mother (the actual mother being left unseen in the game) to her younger sisters. Scarlet is a woman of order: she doesn't like the untidiness of the forest. With the responsibility of being the firstborn of the sisters, she has always felt the need to maintain control and harmony within the household. This self-imposed weight of family duty has left her lonely and emotionally repressed, constantly wearing a mask of composure to hide her true feelings.

Scarlet meets her wolf at a ruined theatre deep in the forest. She (he? it?) is a fey being reminiscent of Titania from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Tall, elegant, ethereal. Scarlet takes to the stage, sits down at the upright piano and begins to play. The wolf walks over to Scarlet and the piano, standing at her shoulder, playing the odd accompanying note, and appearing to give encouragement and instruction. As they play, the curtain comes down, hiding them from view. After the curtain has fully cloaked the stage, we fade out and the scene is cut back to the path.

I interpreted the 'death' here as the death of Scarlet's repressed self. Her journey into the woods is representative of her need to free herself from her responsibilities and inhibitions and learn how to embrace life, and her 'wolf' is more of an instructor or liberator than a threat to Scarlet. This is reinforced by the imagery used in scene at the Grandmother's house: the objects are symbolically veiled and ordered or regimented. For Scarlet to grow up and become an adult, she needs to accept who and what she is and not hide behind a false sense of duty and order.

The girl in white

The seventh playable character in the game, the girl in white, also happens to be a non-playable character for the first six chapters of the game. She appears in the forest to offer a reassuring hug, a soothing kiss or just a playful game of pattycake when encountered by one of the sisters. She also serves another purpose in the game: to return the sisters to the path, if you venture into the woods, but do not want to initiate the encounter with the wolf.

You assume control of the girl in white for the epilogue. Here there is no wolf, and all you have to do is take her to the Grandmother's House. Like with the other characters, she will make her way to the Grandmother's bedroom to keep her company.
You will notice here that like the other characters (if you don't encounter the wolf in the forest), the Grandmother has a portrait of the girl in white over her bed, implying that she is family. There is also another nice symbolic touch I like (common to all the scenes in the Grandmother's bedroom when you have 'failed' the chapter), that being the stuffed wolf next to the bed.

When the scene fades and segues back to the starting apartment, the girl in white is standing alone in the apartment, her dress splattered with blood. Gradually all the six sisters re-enter the room, prompting the girl in white to leave when they are all safely back in the apartment.

It would be easy to assume that the girl is just a device to let you replay the game (and in a sense, she is), but it is also possible that she acts as a guardian for the sisters; a symbolic replacement for the hunter or woodsman in the original story. There are other possible interpretations as well, such as that she is a seventh sister, or is even a surrogate mother figure for the other characters, since she is the only one who knows their way through the forest back to the path. She acts as a bridge between all the possible outcomes achievable in the game, so should not be seen as simply a convenient game device.

SPOILERS END HERE

The Path's true brilliance however is not that I was able to read all this from the game, but that someone else could play it and draw completely different conclusions. These are just my thoughts, based on my first play-through. I'm not saying that my interpretations are right, or that they are the only reasonable ones to draw - just that The Path warrants more attention and thought that a blandly literal interpretation.

I think The Path is an exceptional piece of work, and one that's likely to make people see videogames in a different light, because it's the most ungamelike game I've ever played. Its purpose isn't for you to have fun. It's to make you emote and challenge yourself and your way of thinking. It's also one of the few games that's ever passed The Girlfriend Test. Normally my lady looks at the videogames I play and pulls a face like I've just asked her for unprotected anal sex without lubricants. (That's a needlessly graphic metaphor, by the way, not a comment on my sex life... just thought I'd make that one clear.) Yet when she watched me play The Path she uttered the immortal words "That looks interesting." - high praise indeed from someone who doesn't even like Peggle.

I think you can probably tell from the length of this post just how much I like The Path (my review for Videogamer is of a similar length, too - around 2500 words), which is a hell of a lot of wordage I've dedicated to an indie game that's unlikely to register on most gamer's radar. I hope the Videogamer review will do something to raise the profile of The Path, because it really deserves attention. And despite getting a free review copy earlier in the week, I still bought it off Steam last night, because I do like to put my money where my mouth is, and I believe games development this brave deserves to be rewarded.

So go out and buy it - it's easily worth $10 or £7 of anyone's money, even that of a mean, tightfisted Scot, like me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Byte: That's it...

It's over. I've had enough. Blizzard, you are dead to me. I've waited six weeks for you to fix whatever the hell you did in the 3.0.8 patch that fucked everything up, but things haven't improved. Hell, Now I can't even fucking LOG IN half the time.

So screw you guys, you're not getting any more money out of me. It was a fun four years, but this lack of support and the seeming inability to get anything done to remedy the problem has just left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don't want to play the game anymore. And I was really enjoying myself with the PCG Guild, too...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Byte: Data at your fingertips... literally.

This is got to be one of the coolest ideas ever. If I ever lose any bodily extremities, I'm totally having this done. Just think of the prank-potential of being able to leave your finger plugged into someone else's PC...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Byte: Normal service will be resumed shortly

Despite what it might currently say on the website (at the time of writing of this post), the Empire Total War review that went up on Videogamer this morning was written by me, not Tom.

You can tell it's me from the penchant for long sentences and the gratuitous usage of punctuation marks other than commas and full-stops; I do like a nice semi-colon now and again... and ellipsis... sweet ellipsis... (not that I actually used any in this review - though I did put in a few parenthesized refrains, as is my wont)

Rest assured, it's not an attempt by Tom to steal credit for my review. No, the explanation is far more mundane than that: The site recently had a back-end revamp, and there are a couple of slight issues with the handling of article credits at the moment. Our code tiger (Adam's a bit too high up on the competency food chain to be a humble code monkey like me) is off on a business trip to Hungary at the moment, so couldn't fix it in time for the review to go up. Tom told me all about this last night, which is why I'm not recounting this in an apoplectic tone. Normal service will be resumed shortly (both on the Videogamer website, and here with me foaming at the mouth at something that has provoked my ire in the news)...

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the review - I sacrificed four hours sleep to get it finished on Tuesday night. It's perhaps a little on the dry side, but I didn't think a review full of gags would be appropriate for the game. I sneaked a couple of semi-humorous lines in there (not exactly gags, but things that were intended to provoke a smirk or two), but otherwise I played it with a straight bat (to use a cricketing cliché).

I don't have anything else on the reviewing horizon in the immediate future, so perhaps now I can put some time into Halo 3 and Dead Rising. I also ordered my Xbox Live Gold Membership card and a 4200 Microsoft Points card from Play yesterday, so you will probably be seeing me on a PGR4, Race Pro or Halo 3 server sometime soon. If you do see me, please be gentle, I'm a console online-gaming n00b. And I don't have a Xbox Live headset either, so I'm likely to be stoically silent (rather than just plain rude) if you do see me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Byte: The Empire Str- nah, that's way too obvious....

I'm rather tired this morning, as I was up until OhmyIshouldreallybeinbedbynow o'clock, finishing off my colossal Empire Total War review for Videogamer. At 2025 words, it's the longest thing I've written in a while, but I think the end result is worth the lack of sleep. I probably could have written another couple of thousand words on the game, but my insomnia does have some limits...

I originally didn't actually have such high expectations of Empire, since I think after playing Medieval II I was suffering from a bit of Total War-weariness, if you will. I didn't enjoy Medieval II quite so much as I liked Rome, and I was a bit unsure of how the game would play, transported to the 18th Century. I also wasn't that enamoured with the idea of the naval combat, either, but having now put an obscenely large amount of time into the game over the last few days, Empire is the best Total War to date. As I point out in the review, it's not without flaws or glitches, but on the whole, the changes to the Total War formula made by Creative Assembly for Empire have paid off and give the game a fresh feel a series this old really has no right to have.

The Naval combat, which I thought would be the weakest link, is arguably the least compelling section of the game (the water effects are great and all, but how interesting can you make seas look? Oooh, this water is a slightly different colour to the last map! Wooo!), but is interesting enough (and different enough) from the land battles to warrant persisting with and mastering. The switch to the 18th Century and its more adaptable units and more advanced tactics also reinvigorates land battles that would have felt stale had they clung to their horse vs. sword vs. bow roots. The changes to the strategic management however, are the ones I like most - particularly the decentralisation of resource buildings from a region stronghold to outlying settlements throughout the region. This greatly increases your ability to inflict economic damage on your enemy and also provoke unrest, should you lay waste to the local cathedral or bawdyhouse. It's a great way of annoying enemy powers, even if you don't have the manpower to win a stand-up fight.

This is only my personal preference, but I enjoy the turn-based strategy aspect a lot more than the tactical combat (nice though it is). I've always been more of a person inclined to implement a grand design rather than get my hands dirty. In fact, I've found that it's only ever really worth fighting the real time battles yourself at all if the forces are evenly balanced or you're at a slight disadvantage and want to try and have a go at outwitting the AI. Otherwise, if the balance of power is 2:1 or better in your favour, you're better off leaving it to the autoresolve, as you'll end up losing fewer troops. Okay, so maybe it's not quite so much fun that way, but if you're playing by the percentages and planning ahead for the long-term game, autoresolve is clearly the way to go (and is also a boon if you're not particularly adept with real-world military tactics).

But I think the thing that's most encouraging about Empire is that it's unrepentantly a hardcore PC game. It's a huge, complicated, time-eating monster of a game, and the fact it's now sitting prettily at the top of the all-format games chart should be hugely reassuring for the future of PC gaming. It shows that PC games don't have to dumb down to be successful for the developer and rewarding for the player. So congratulations to Creative Assembly, and lets hope that they keep making games as good as this in the future.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Byte: This bandwagon's old enough to jump on

Usually tend to let bandwagons roll for a good couple of years before deciding to leap aboard, but this particular bandwagon I've more been pushed onto, rather than chosen to hitch a ride on myself. This bandwagon has a name, and it's called Skype.

I've probably regaled you all before with tales of my lady's technical ineptness and all-round Luddite-ery, but for once she has gotten me to adopt a new bit of technology. I already knew all about Skype, of course, and had even told my lady about it a couple of years ago when she'd almost had a heart attack at the size of her phone bill (since she spends a lot of time on the phone to people in France).

Predictably, she wrinkled up her nose at the idea when I suggested it and conveniently forgot all about it until her youngest sister decided she was going to move to New Caledonia this spring, which, being somewhere off the north east coast of Australia, is quite an expensive place to make a phone call to. So the idea of using Skype surfaced again over Christmas and one of Fleur's sisters even bought her Dad a webcam so that they could do video calls.

Cue Fleur nagging me every ten minutes to install Skype. I finally relented at the weekend, and yesterday I took advantage of being in my Farnborough office to pop over the road to the local PC World and pick up a nice little webcam that was on sale for a smidge under £25. We tried out a video call last night and Fleur was almost literally in raptures, especially since it's free. (I've got her well trained, see... she's almost an honorary Scotswoman) So now the danger is that I'll never be able to get onto my PC because Fleur's too busy Skype-ing everyone, but I suppose that's what I bought the laptop and the consoles for...

Anyway, this is all a very long, roundabout way of saying "I'm on Skype, add me if you like." I'm registered by my MSN/Hotmail address, so you can find me pretty easily.

The other thing about having bought a webcam is that now I can put some thought into whether I want to start doing some video podcasts... if only to show off the fact that now I use wireless headphones that don't threaten to decapitate me every time I move from my desk.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bark: Watching the Watchmen

I saw the Watchmen film yesterday with my old chum Neal, and I have to say, it was a whole lot better than I thought it was going to be.

Of course, they trimmed out a couple of entire sub-plots (including the Tales of the Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic), changed a couple of scenes (most notably Rorschach's story to the psychiatrist about the abducted girl who'd been fed to dogs - presumably PETA wouldn't have liked Rorschach taking a meat cleaver to a couple of dogs on screen) and radically altered the ending from the original's mock alien invasion to something else which I won't spoil here. The fight scenes are also extended and they changed a few details here and there, basically to make the story more filmable.

At something over two and a half hours long, it's still a bit on the long side (or at least my ass and lower back were beginning to think so in the cinema seats), but I was impressed with the pacing and the fact that the film is still pretty dialogue and character heavy (and most of the dialogue is lifted directly from the comic). Though if it's a little talkier than most action films, the special effects are still absolutely terrific, and the production design is absolutely spot on compared to the original comic.

There's only one really toe-curling scene - where Dan and Laurie are having sex in the Nite Owl's ship. Not so much for the sex itself, but the music: I can't abide Hallelujah at the best of times, but Leonard Cohen in a sex scene... just NO-NO-NO-NO-NO. I don't know what they were thinking.

Other than that low point, however, I think it's definitely worth seeing. I'm not sure it'll make it into my DVD collection, but it's not such a bad way of spending a few hours.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Byte: Another string to the bow

Today represents a watershed. I've been writing reviews of PC games for literally years, and while I've done the odd review for Nintendo DS and Xbox, I've not really done a huge amount of console reviews. So the review of Race Pro that went up on Videogamer today, is a little bit like having a new era dawn for me.

If you knew me in the days of the old PC Gamer forum on Delphi (about 8 or 9 years ago now), I was the archetypal hardcore PC gaming fanboy. I'd never owned a console, never wanted to own a console, couldn't even consider the possibility that I'd ever want to own a console. Over the years, especially post-Halo and post-KotOR, that stance has been gradually shifting toward console-a-philia. (Yes, I know that's not a real word, but bear with me here...) It's all Charles's fault. Charles is a friend of mine at work who also happens to be one of the admins at NTSC-UK, and at one time when we worked together, you had two admins for arguably the two most elitist gaming websites in the UK (NTSC-UK and the now defunct State) sitting within a couple of feet of each other. Very small world, huh? It was only really through Charles that I ever really considered console gaming as potentially being on a par with PC gaming. He successfully bugged me into buying a Nintendo DS, so that we could multiplay at lunchtimes, and Olly, another gaming colleague on our team (and NTSC-UK member), found me a second-hand Xbox on the NTSC-UK trade forum with about half a dozen games (including the stonking Burnout 3) for a mere pittance (around £80 or £90 all in, as I recall). And from there, I never really looked back. PC was still my preferred platform, but at least now I could appreciate the value of console gaming.

It wasn't inferior to PC gaming, as I'd ignorantly thought, it was just different. And difference can be good. From there I went on to pick up a bargain-basement Gamecube, so that I could play the Metroid Prime games and Resident Evil 4, though that got shifted on once the Wii came out, and I could play the dozen or so games I'd picked up for the 'cube through that. Then, finally, I picked up an Xbox 360 Elite as a birthday present to myself at the tail end of January. And I have to say, while the lion's share of my playing time still goes to the PC (old habits die hard), I am very impressed with not only how good the games look and play, but also how (unlike a lot of PC games) they don't take a huge amount of faffing about to get working properly.

Convenience is obviously a big factor these days when you're a high-stressed, time-pressed professional with a girlfriend who increasingly fills up the social calendar in order to stop you from spending too much time playing videogames. So I like that out-of-the-box playability, and also playing on the big screen TV. The resolution (720p) might not be so good as you get with a PC game, but hell, I'll have the extra acreage on the screen size, thanks.

I picked up Halo 3 (well, I have the first two, I might as well complete the set) and Dead Rising off Play for £15 each about a week ago, but I haven't gotten around to them yet, thanks to Dawn of War II (I'm replaying that in the odd spare moment, thanks to the short mission lengths, and still enjoying it mightily, I might add) and Empire: Total War, which I wasn't actually that interested in, but since Videogamer offered me the review, I was hardly going to pass it up. When someone says, "Here, have this free review code", my natural Scottish instincts just take over... I won't say too much about Empire here yet, as the review will be going up sometime next week, but what I will say is that I'm pleasantly surprised. I thought I was all Total Warred out after Medieval II, but 18th Century combat is pleasingly different to the meat-grinder approach seen in Rome and (to a lesser extent) Medieval II. Obviously, the big new feature is the Naval combat and it's fascinating. Tactically it's very different to fighting on land, and takes quite a bit of practice. And it's pretty spectacular when you have ships explode... it shocked the hell out of me the first time it happened. Especially because it happened in the middle of my formation and set a couple of my ships on fire.

Anyway - my review will go up sometime next week, no doubt, so I'll link when it gets posted.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bark: It's just not cricket

This just totally baffles me. What the hell is the point? Terrorists might be evil, violent fuckwits, but they always have an agenda. But if there's one here, I can't figure out for the life of me what it might be.