Friday, July 29, 2011

Byte: Beyond Good and Evil

As part of my self-set homework for this summer's holiday, I've set myself a few targets. I'm acutely aware that my completion rate, even for games that I really like, is pretty bloody woeful - probably only one game in five, at best.

So this summer I want to knock three (less than 1% of my total games collection) games off my "to complete" list. I'm being remarkably self-disciplined, and playing the games in order of priority, with only a bit of cocking about on World of Warcraft to form a distraction. Given that I don't have a very good track record with sticking to targets, I've tried to be realistic by setting a priority that's remotely achieveable for at least two of the games I want to complete, by tackling them in increasing order of length.

Last on the list will be The Witcher 2, which I haven't made much headway with so far - not due to a lack of enthusiasm, but because I can tell it's the kind of game that really requires a lot of singleminded dedication to get through (like its predecessor), and unless I'm on holiday, I don't have a lot of that to spare. Second on my list is a game that ranks in my all-time top 5 games, yet I never quite got around to finishing - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In previous playthroughs I've completed about 80% of the game, but like my previous mental block with Deus Ex, I couldn't quite bring myself to finishing the game off - it's one of those games you never quite want to end. However, this summer, I really want to finish it, though I doubt I will play many of the optional missions - I'll just stick to the main story missions, any maybe play around the edges if I have time.

But the first game on my list this summer is arguably the greatest videogame ever to come out of France: Beyond Good and Evil. The long-awaited sequel's been getting some hype recently from (series designer) Michel Ancel about "needing power" beyond the current hardware generation of today's consoles, which hopefully gives some indication as to the ambition of its design. Previously, I'd played through about half the game (completing the Nutrapils Factory section) and really enjoyed it (even the stealth sections - which I traditionally find frustrating due to my chronic lack of subtlety and patience)

Currently, I'm approaching the end of the game (with only the section on the moon of Hillys to go - once I collect enough pearls for the upgrades) and even eight years after I played it for the first time, the game really stands up well, barring a few issues with the 3D camera, which veers on the side of hateful at times. I probably shouldn't say too much until I've actually finished it, but I've loved replaying the game and reacquianting myself with the excellent world and game design. Jade, Pey'j and Double H are really delightful characters. Pey'j, in particular, could be really tiresome if he'd been handled badly, but he's very well scripted and voice-acted, so ends up being quite endearing - especially in light of what happens to him halfway through the game.

In many ways, Beyond Good and Evil is a family-friendly GTA, in that it includes open-world driving elements, third-person combat and a few mini-games thrown in for good measure. The story is also simple but well-executed and engaging, and also judged for pace - since the game can be completed in under fifteen hours (even if you spend a fair amount of time cocking about in the mini-games), there's not much padding to be found (though some of the stealth sections are a bit brutal - particularly the Alpha Sections HQ and the bits in the Slaughterhouse with the insta-kill sentry guns). Overall, though, I definitely made a good decision to revisit the game - it's a real joy to play something that's had so much thought put into every element of the design - though I'll talk more about that when I've finished the game (hopefully) within the next couple of days. I'm just hoping that the finale isn't quite so anti-climactic as I found Deus Ex's, after a similar wait to finally get around to completing it...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bark: Need Another Space Administration

Don't get me wrong, NASA have done amazing work over the years, but the decision (forced on NASA by budget cuts) to mothball the Space Shuttle before they even have a next generation replacement capable of putting people is orbit is, in my opinion, a catastrophic backwards step we may later regret.

Look at this and tell me there's nothing we can learn of value from going out into Space. (And bear in mind that the flat screen monitor you're viewing it on was developed directly from technology used by the Space Shuttle programme.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bark: New look

Since I'm hopefully going to start posting a little more frequently around here from now on, I've decided to revitalise the layout and tweak the template of my blog, since I've not changed it since I first started posting on this blog, many, many years ago.

I may give the colour scheme a few more nudges in the direction of spectral frequencies that are less likely to make my (paltry) readership's eyes bleed over the course of the next week or two, but generally I quite like the new look.

Bark: If you don't ask, you don't get...

Fair play, dude.

Would now be a good time to ask for a date with Jennifer Morrison? No? Damn...

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bark: Round up

It's been a rather epic couple of weeks since I last posted. In the last ten days or so I have passed my NQT year, been told that I don't actually have Lyme disease (just some other horrible tick-borne bacterial infection), acquired the latest albums by Moby and Mogwai and signed up for two interesting looking practical art courses at Art In Action, which will be kick-starting my summer holiday in a fortnight's time.

It's hard to believe that there are only two weeks of the academic year left - and that it's now over two years since I left IBM. The time has absolutely flown by, and I don't regret the change at all. Sure, the 30% pay cut was and is increasingly painful, given the escalation of living costs at the moment, but I'm feeling much more fulfilled in my job than when I was stuck working home-alone, shunting numbers around spreadsheets for 10 hours a day. And that sense of job satisfaction is easily worth the pay cut, because there's no point being well-paid if you're miserable in your job. The holidays help too, of course. That and the fact that as a science teacher I get paid to blow shit up and play with all sorts of lovely kit and experiments. The only better job I can think of at the moment is being a pyrotechnician in a special effects company (where you get to blow shit up on an industrial scale). The other thing that's surprised me is that for a self-confessed misanthrope and borderline sociopath, I actually really like working with kids. They can be dumb and exasperating as hell sometimes, but they're never dull and they're often funny, inspired and insightful. So while I'm horribly tired and in desperate need of my summer break, I am looking forward to next year, especially since I'll be much more of a known quantity in the school.

Tomorrow I'll be in London looking for a bit of extra inspiration and more ideas to take into the classroom with me, as I'll be visiting the Royal Society Summer Science expo, which I've been looking forward to for a couple of weeks, since one of my colleagues told me about it. I'm told there's a lot of hands-on stuff, plus the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the scientists behind the research. I'm particularly looking forward to having a poke at the aurora and fundamental particles exhibitions. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to pick up a few posters and resources to decorate my lab and use in lessons. I'm guessing that the place will probably be crawling with teachers - it'll be interesting to see if I bump into any of my old PGCE cohort while I'm there...

More blogging later, but first, I need to make the most of my Friday night by doing some gaming... I can't keep my teacher brain turned on this late on a Friday. IT IS NOT PERMITTED.