Cool Stuff, Features, Ramblings, Site Information

where ideas go to die

New podcast – Feedburner is messing me around, so it isn’t on iTunes yet, but you can get it straight from the site. Go and listen. Subscribe and review us on iTunes!

A few things. I’ve been spending a little time over the last few days unfollowing people on Twitter and unfollowing feeds on Google Reader. Partly because I was following over a thousand people on Twitter and separating the good from the cruft was becoming increasingly problematic, so I cut it down to 551. I just read this thing which Merlin Mann wrote some time ago. I think I was subconsciously trying for something in this vein – trying to ingest only the best, rather than an absolute cavalcade of crud.

Further to ‘absolute cavalcade of crud’, I thought I’d share some insight into the creative process here at NRB Towers. I thought you, the reader, might be interested to see what sort of articles don’t make the cut. With that in mind, here’s a bunch of half-finished tat I gave up on, presented with authorial commentary. It may be instructive. It may be awful. It will be over two thousand words, according to the little wordcount thing at the bottom (hey guys, I’m actually writing this bit last!).

increasing absurdity
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that, between moaning about Chemistry coursework, I’ve spent the last Sunday and Monday evenings protesting the increasing absurdity of Waking The Dead. Now, I really like Waking The Dead – I can remember not being allowed to watch it as a child, but I’ve been catching up recently thanks to my father’s foresight in having bought series 1-6 on DVD. I’ve been expounding this theory a lot to various people of late, but in my mind, Waking The Dead is turning into a more brutal and unpleasant Midsomer Murders*.

Now, it’s a television detective drama, so there’s bound to be (ahem) artistic licence taken. However. In the last episode (Care), there was a character called The Bagman, who resembled nothing quite so much as The Scarecrow from Batman. The whole plot revolved around (spoiler) a care-home worker abducting children from a care home so they could give them a better chance at life. In the climactic final scenes, Detective Superintendent Boyd plastic-bags an old lady for literally no reason. GIven that the woman’s son currently has a knife to the neck of a teenage girl, it seems a little… odd**.

*I wrote a thing about Midsomer Murders a little while ago. As to the whole race row thing that blew up recently – David Mitchell had a rather entertaining perspective on that here – my grandparents live in Dorset, which is in that area of the world (fictional world… oh, you know what I mean), and it’s true that you don’t see many ethnic minorities around. At the same time, the way Mr True-May phrased it did seem to imply that ‘Englishness’ was a quality one posesses with inverse proportionality to one’s melanin levels, so he may or may not be a racist. Make up your own mind.
**Did I say ‘odd’? I meant ‘psychotic’.
In retrospect, this probably wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to do a bit where I contrasted Boyd’s behaviour with a DS I know, but it never quite went. I do like the Scarecrow thing, though. NEXT!

.[Introduction telling you to go and listen to hecklr]…something you should be watching – the new project from Robert Popper (of Look Around You fame), Friday Night Dinner. Starring Fran from Black Books in a wig, the nerd from The Inbetweeners, two other people you’ll probably never have seen before, Leonard Hatred and (for the first episode only), Garth Marenghi Matthew Holness (who appears to have been doing absolutely nothing since Man To Man with Dean Learner finished*). Friday Night Dinner is a single-camera comedy about the hijinks of a dysfunctional family who get together for dinner every Friday night. As ghastly as that sounds, it’s actually fantastic. It owes quite a large debt to the Fawlty Towers style of comedy, with jokes being telegraphed throughout, with spectacular payoffs.

*Well, three things, not including FND.
I think I got distracted by a shiny object, or something. I honestly have no idea why I didn’t finish this. I should have, because it’s a great programme you should really all be going and watching.

The Internet, The RAM Raider and PC Zone
The September of last year saw the death of PC Zone. I happened to be passing through City Thameslink on my way back from the Citizen Cyberscience Conference thing I’d been attending (yes, I go to conferences for fun) and thought I’d pick up a copy. I’d heard so many good things from so many quarters about how it was one of the best games magazines, well-written and clever and Charlie Brooker used to write for it, did you know that? Before he went of and became all TV-famous and that and married (former) Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq* and got the worlds oddest hairdo**. Well, after purchase there was very little chance I could forget it given that it seemed to be the mag’s primary through-line. A page without a mention of Charlton*** was apparently a wasted page. I appreciate that this is kicking a corpse that’s been dead for quite some time, but reading it, it seems to me rather obvious why the magazine went under. They were charging six pounds, and for what? Mostly memories of better days, as far as I could tell. I’m probably not getting a very representative sample, what with it being the farewell issue and all, but asking someone to pay out that much when you could easily find comparable material on the internet seems to be a rather odd way of doing things.

This isn’t a ‘print is dead’ thing, by the way. I should point out that the writing was good – Jon Blyth’s very funny, and it’s all very well-written, but it isn’t really worth the print premium, is it? I’m sure it used to be better, back when it was perhaps a little more relevant and there was a team who were’t demoralised by spiralling sales figures and worked harder for less money than ever before. I think all the love poured out in the letters page was probably testament to this “You should have been there! You should have seen it” thing going on. I can’t claim any great knowledge of the games magazines of old. I have no doubt they were wonderful things, which is why I find it so sad that they seem to be becoming shells of their former selves.

*a weirder figurative (and literal) marriage of things I enjoyed as a child and a teenager you couldn’t find. Unless someone got the cast of The Wire to re-make Aquilla.
***no, really
I was going to go on to draw parallels between the RAM Raider and GJAIF, and point out that while they’re basically doing the same thing, the RAM Raider focussed on magazines, and his latter-day incarnation focusses on the blogs, and talk about the contrast there. But I couldn’t be bothered, I think.

If, like me, you’ve previously assumed self-published books to be the preserve of those whose books are so awful that a mainstream publisher wouldn’t touch them*, this very interesting article seems to knock that into a cocked hat. It also does something to allay the suspicions of those (again, like me) who assumed that most ebook sales would come as a result of previous literary exposure (i.e. already published authors, as seems to be the case for this JA Konrath fellow).
Ms Hocking writes “young adult paranormal romance and urban fantasy”. Read : sub-Twilight vampire nonsense**. However much contempt I hold it*** in, however, there’s still the obvious concession that, as with Dan Brown and Christopher Paolini, there’s a market for this stuff. Twilight is (quality concerns aside) insanely popular, and the teenage girl market is extremely lucrative****.

*Have you ever noticed how many stupid things you still think despite the fact that a moment’s thought disproves them? For instance, the above example. I tend to think that publishers in most media are unecessary middlemen, with what uses they had in the analog world (creation of physical media, distribution, promotion) being either no longer necessary or possible for the creator to accomplish themselves. Yet despite this I still see self-publishing as the exclusive preserve of those whose stuff is so esoteric or awful as to be unpublishable.
**and given my opinion of Twilight, that’s so ‘sub’ … I was going to make some sort of Subway joke here, but I’m sure you can think of something funnier yourself.
***Twilight, that is, not Ms Hocking’s works, which I’m sure are nothing less than wonderful.
****again, casting no aspersions as to the quality etc etc. Nor am I suggesting that commercial success should in any way be a criteria for judging a book sucessful.
This was going to go on to talk about the potential issues with a commercial meritocracy of this kind, and also how I was probably going to write a book I would stick up on the Kindle store at some point. Probably still will.

Bioware the Ides of March(sorry)
Sorry, the title is a little strained, but if I’ve learned anything from my study of British games journalism, it’s that the best sort typified by puns in the title. I’ve been playing a lot of Dragon Age Oranges recently – a generous Christmas gift from my friends George and David – and have been thinking about how it contrasts with probably the best game of last year, Mass Effect 2.

Given that Dragon Age 2 is coming out at the end of the month, it seems like I’m rushing through the game a little, so I’ve got a save I can import

The systems of morality in the two games differ greatly. Mass Effect 2 has ‘Paragon’ and ‘Renegade’ points that are awarded for good or evil actions respectively (they are, and I don’t care what you say). There’s an enemy you meet in Mass Effect 2, for instance, who you have the option of pushing out a window when he’s being a dick. That’s an action, by the way, not a conversation choice. You can choose to perform the Renegade Action, and in so doing you gain Renegade Points (and I’ll admit, despite playing a Paragon’s Paragon, I still pushed him out of the window. So morality in Mass Effect is intrinsic. It’s structured as two diametrically opposed points systems, ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

Dragon Age, on the other hand, approaches morality from what I’ve become convinced is the more involving way – it makes it extrinsic. Any points you score are points of relative approval or disapproval from the characters in your party. So if you choose to do something bad, or even just be sarcastic, Morrigan, the evil witch in your party, will approve, but Leliana, the good rogue, will disapprove.

Something that badly needs changing is the combat, which is almost as slow as my writing. From what I’ve heard Bioware saying, the combat’s going to become more immidiate, which is fantastic.
This was going to become a suggestion list, but by the time I stopped and started a couple of times, Dragon Age 2 had actually come out. I’ve played a bit, but haven’t finished yet. Combat much improved, but some other areas problematic.

The Boy Who Cried Dickwolf
I never actually wrote anything for this. I was trying to think of a punning title for a post about the Penny Arcade dickwolves controversy. For the record, I still think it was a little silly how much fuss was kicked up initially, but PA’s response was… less than helpful, from my perspective.

There you go, then, reader. There are a few abandoned ideas, formerly consigned to the scrapheap of oblivion, now placed in the filing cabinets of the Museum of Memory. I thought it would be interesting to have a look at posts where I ran out of steam. The ones on which I don’t are… well, reviews of Doctor Who, for one. Apologies for not posting more, asking you to go and listen to my podcast, for two.

That’s quite enough of that, anyway. It’s getting late. Goodnight, and good luck.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s