Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Why I hate online gaming

I don't play online games much. It used to be because I couldn't be fucked trying to win against dozens of unstoppable pre-adolescent killing machines who clearly don't do anything else but play online games. I don't have the time or the drive to get that good, so it stops being fun.

Lately thought I've experienced something of a gaming renaissance, I've been playing Dead Rising 2, and I've had a stab at playing the Online Beta for the Assassin's Creed 2 Brother hood game. Both are relatively new and well balanced so you actually have a shot at winning.

The problem is, in a nutshell, assholes with microphones. It seems to be impossible to get games without some twat on the other end saying all manner of outlandish shit over the game. It's like they've employed some foul mouthed white trash kid to do narration over the whole game. Just before I played a game where some dude was like "ohh, fuck, cunt, fuck" over the whole game. I like a good cussin' session as much as the next guy, but it's unbearable to try and play when you're assaulted with this level of uneducated bullshit (Although I will concede that it's really satisfying to kill someone in the game and immediately hear "Ohh what, that prick just killed me"). I constantly find myself uselessly yelling at the screen "SHUT. THE FUCK. UP." I'll quit the game, and then have to wait ten minutes until getting a game without some asshole commentary.

So please. Game developers, in your next online game, please incorporate a "mute chodes" option. Thanks.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Dead Rising 2

So I got Dead Rising 2 a week or so ago, and I just finished my first playthrough this morning.

Set five years after the original Dead Rising, DR2 takes place in a world adjusted to the presence of the Undead. It seems that these Zombies are fairly well controlled, even to the extent that infected people can take a drug called Zombrex every 24 hours to stave off turning into a zombie. A massive game show, Terror is Reality (think American Gladiators with Zombies) exploits hordes of the undead for entertainment.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Specific Target Market

So the other day I made contact with the New Zealand branch of a major energy drink company (you can probably guess which one) to say, "Hey, I love your product. Where can I buy some of your merchandise."

They directed me to an online shop, but this was more specialised sports gear of dudes or sports they sponsored. I sent another message saying "Yeah thanks, I saw that, but I was talking more generalised stuff, like t-shirts with the brand on it, that kind of thing."

Then they told me something I was not at all expecting:

"Hi Chris,

Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately only our [promotional] Team Members and branded athletes are allowed to wear the [company's name] logo"

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

It was so great working with them

Don't you just love it when celebrities, droning on at the inevitable release-date interview - you know the ones, in a dark room in front of the film poster, where they go on about how amazing the film was despite the fact that it got universally panned - talk about how great it was working with their co-stars. One of the first questions always asked by the over-eager and sickeningly bubbly so-called film reporter is "what was it like working with X?" to which comes the response "X is a really amazing person, such fun to work with, makes everyone laugh and really takes his/her acting seriously." Sometimes things go wrong in these interviews, as shown in this video, where the "interviewer" mistakes John Cusack for Kevin Spacey. I mean, duh! They are like, totally different guys! But hey, I do understand her confusion, all those middle-aged brown-haired male actors eventually merge into one anyway especially in the context of the release-date interview where all they're going to go on about is the same old shit about how great a person their co-star and director are and how fantastic the film is.

Come on now guys, they can't all be such amazing people. Whatever happened to a little honesty? I thought people respected truth-telling more than the manufactured watered-down family friendly drivel. People like Henry Rollins tell it like it is, you might not agree, you might think he's ranting like a lunatic, but at the very least you're hearing exactly what he thinks. And yes, I do detect the fact that I'm using Henry Rollins as an example in a rant about actors when his most notable performance on screen was the angry nerd in Johnny Mnemonic, but it illustrates my point. Why can't the so-called gritty A-list actors, often playing people who don't take any crap, occasionally break out with "Man, to be honest that guy is a total douche. He was a prick on set, a prick to the director, a prick to the drinks guy, and a prick to me." When that happens, I'll respect Hollywood slightly more. Which won't be much, really.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Joining the Prescriptivists' Ranks

As a linguist I should be upholding the tenets of descriptivism, embracing changes in language as part of its natural evolution, not judging those who diverge from the accepted "norm", being open-minded and curious about what differentiates individuals as language users. I tried to read Eats, Shoots and Leaves but I threw it away after twenty pages. Text messaging isn't destroying language, it's evolving it, pushing its boundaries, adding to its richness. Yeah, OK, any other day I'd give you that spiel. But from time to time some things piss me off enough that I'll cast aside the descriptivism that I hold so dear and momentarily join the ranks of self-proclaimed language "experts", high-horsed grammar mavens, and those who have their own newspaper columns about language yet can't tell the difference between a Chomsky and a Chimpsky.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Sucky Music

I've been brewing an article in my mind for quite some time. My idea went like this: I was going to take a bunch of critically acclaimed bands; you know the ones, we've heard about them for the past twenty years; the under-appreciated yet groundbreaking bands that you've never actually bothered to listen to, the ones that everyone says are the pinnacle of music goodness. Then I was going to tell you how much I think they suck. Yes, I know, it probably wouldn't have flown far in the vast expanses of the Internet before being shot down, where obscurity, elitism and snobbery are the only ways we can distinguish ourselves from the group."What!? You haven't listened to Antarctic Monkeys from Mars? Loser."

Saturday, 10 July 2010

My Impressions of Auschwitz

The main gate to Auschwitz I. The sign reads "Arbeit macht frei" - Work sets you free

Auschwitz is not a place to be visited lightly. The site of the former Nazi extermination camp in Oświęcim, Poland, is a haunting place. Having succumbed to modern-day tourism, Auschwitz sees people of all nationalities come to pay their respects. Walking around the site of Auschwitz I, I found myself mentally detached from the scale of the murder that occured on the ground upon which I walked. Bubbling beneath the surface were millions of screaming ghosts and I chose not to listen to them. It was a natural defense mechanism, one which I think most people would adopt when visiting a place like this. But when I glimpsed a young girl's pony tail on top of a pile of human hair, a shock ran through me. An innocent child, naked, head shaved, had then been pushed into a room with thousands of others and gassed with hydrogen cyanide.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Doritos Rant

Since I came back from Papua New Guinea I've noticed something new in New Zealand.


Sunday, 20 June 2010

Gaming: The Final Chapter

And so we come to the final chapter in my gaming journey. My 486 DX2 was serving me well, though by this time it was getting a bit too slow for my liking, unable to play the demanding games of the time. One day at school I got a call from my parents telling me we'd been robbed. Our house had been cleared out, right down to the bottles of wine. My computer, the tiny HDD full of precious games and documents, was lost forever. The police were too "busy" to complete any kind of investigation, which left me feeling incredibly depressed. All was not lost: a silver lining appeared thanks to our insurance company, who replaced the stolen computer with one worth the same amount at the time we had bought it. Our new Pentium MMX running at 233 MHz was installed, introducing us to fancy new Windows 95, and a new world of processing power. Even though I remained bitter about losing a piece of my history, it didn't take long before I'd forgotten about it and had immersed myself in a new category of graphically intensive games.

Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)

Ultima 8 is one of the most important games for both Chris and I (see Chris's earlier post Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale for more). I first came across it in 1997 when a friend gave me the game to borrow for the weekend. I quickly became hooked, sharing my updates with friends at school every week. U8 was around at the same time as Relentless, and though the graphics were less impressive, I was drawn much closer to the environment and atmosphere of U8. I never actually finished it as I got stuck without the right reagents and couldn't continue. My patience for games has never been that great and I couldn't be bothered trying again. It's funny considering the esteem in which I hold this game, so I suppose I should find some time and get it running on DOSBox. On a side note, I tracked down a boxed version of U8, complete with cloth map and pentagram coin. It's sitting in my cupboard next to a few other old gems, reminders of the brief period of game collecting I went through.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Super Space Invaders Remixed

Weka, a Wellington-based music producer, has remixed the Super Space Invaders theme, as mentioned in my earlier article Gaming: Non-PC Platforms. Hear the track over at SoundCloud.

For more on Weka, check out his website at wekanz.com.

Monday, 31 May 2010

This comic teaches you the dos and don'ts of LARPing

Just a quick link found via the chaps at io9:

Nick Edwards explains Larping, in Comic Form!

Go over there and check it out. Mr. Edwards (who I have to confess I'd never heard of) seems like quite a talented chap!

Well done Nick!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Review: Stone Temple Pilots

Holy shit, there's a new Stone Temple Pilots album?

It's called... Stone Temple Pilots.

Which is odd. I always find it kind of weird when a band eponymously titles an album that isn't their first one. It's especially weird in this case, because it's STP's sixth album (not counting a now obviously premature Best Of), and it's been NINE years since their last one Shangri-La Dee Da (which sucked).

Scott Pilgrim and the Continuing Rise of Geek Culture

There's a ton of movies out there that are based on, borrow heavily from, or reference existing properties that fly under the radar of the mainstream. Some are massively entertaining in their own right and people have a habit of enjoying these without fully realising just how much of these films reference other cult and pop culture properties. Some of these films gain more widespread recognition than all of the properties they borrow from combined. Tarantino films are a good example of these, I know people who watch a lot of movies, but you're going to be hard pressed to find a film geek educated enough to spot all the obscure stuff he's borrowing from. Edgar Wright's films are another example, although his references (i.e. every action film ever in Hot Fuzz) are a little easier to pick. Films have this habit of influencing society, popular films popularise clothing, accessories, activities and a bunch of other stuff. If Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does turn out to be the phenomenal crossover hit I think it will, things are going to happen.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Gaming: Non-PC Platforms

I've had a few notes from people reminding me of certain games, and I've also realised that I left off a few important DOS games from the previous chapters, such as Raptor, Bio Menace, Race the Nags, Cannon Fodder 2, the Lemmings series, Wolfenstein 3D, and the Blake Stone series, amongst others. I do have to exercise some sort of editorial control and unfortunately some games have been unceremoniously cut.

Now on to the next chapter. DOS wasn't the only platform on which I played games. A friend of mine, whom you all know from the Strip Poker II episode, had a Macintosh at home (I can't remember which model) and it was there he introduced me to a new world of gaming.

Glider (1988)

The player takes control of a paper plane and flies it around a room without touching the floor or furniture. Deceptively simple, yet incredibly challenging and addictive. Glider became a bit of a phenomenon in the Mac gaming scene and has had many versions. The author, John Calhoun, has made the latest version, Glider PRO, as well as the older Glider 4.0, free of charge on his website. What a nice guy. For Windows folk, Glider 4.0 was ported in 1994 and is available for download at Theodor Lauppert's page.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Gaming: The Demo Disk Dynasty

Welcome to the second installment of my journey through video games. This period is broadly defined as the era of the demo disk: 3.5" floppies that could be bought at the local supermarket. Sharing demo disks was the early nineties equivalent of P2P file sharing. But legal. Times were so much simpler back then.

Crystal Caves (1991)

I first saw the Apogee logo at the start of Crystal Caves on my school friend's PC. From that moment on, Apogee became synonymous with quality, as Crystal Caves was highly addictive and a lot of fun. I can't remember ever getting frustrated with this game, as there were many levels to play and each one was wildly different. I also loved the addition of an above ground start to the game, before descending into the caves, which gave it a bit more atmosphere - or at least as much as you could get in those days.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Is LARPing Acceptable Social Behaviour?

I'm qualified to write this post because I am a goddamn anthropologist.

At around 1.30pm today, the University of Otago was swamped with a bunch of dudes with cardboard swords and shields bashing the shit out of each other and yelling, while a bunch of girls dressed as nurses looked on. While the nurse thing was a new factor, I immediately recognised this occurrence for what it was: Live Action Role-Playing (LARPing). Sure, this was crude and amateurish, poorly thought out and without any true enduring passion to the *cough* um. Sport(?)... But it was enough for me to pull out the phone and capture it (Ericsson W995, 8.1 megapixel camera, bought specifically for this type of occasion).

What better time than to have a think about its history, gently mock it and then discuss it as if it was some enduringly important social phenomenon?

Gaming: The Formative Years

This is the first in a multi-part series charting my development through the world of video games. In Part One, The Formative Years, I present a few games that got me started on this journey even before I had a computer at home. Let's get started.

Alley Cat (1984)
PC Booter

I didn't get into Alley Cat until much later than 1984, having been introduced to it by a primary school buddy of mine sometime around 1990. I went to a school that was rather advanced in computing technology for the time, and had had plenty of contact with computer games beforehand (some of which I am unable to track down on the Internet), though Alley Cat was my first experience of gaming addiction. I can remember never actually finishing the game, being continually frustrated by the stupid dog that would always kill me. These were the days when I had to give up my seat in order to let my friend have a turn, which was a pain in the ass because all I wanted to do was play again. And again. And again. This was obviously before I developed my incredible impatience with games; back then they were in essence much more difficult to complete than the games of today, many of which went on indefinitely and had no save function. This torture was taken well by my younger self, though nowadays if I pushed myself to install Alley Cat on DOSbox I know I'd last about five minutes.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale

I think, as Jay will attest, that the failure to release Ultima 8: The Lost Vale, was one of the biggest let-downs of our combined video-gaming careers. To put it bluntly, it's been a thorn in our sides for far too long.

Ultima 8 was released in 1994. At some point around where our timelines converged, Jay and I realised that we had the game in common, and we both had a blast playing it. The game signaled our introduction to this noble, long-running franchise (not counting Ultima 9. What a disappointing cluster-fuck), a series rich in history and continuity. You play as the Avatar, the paragon of virtue, resident of two worlds, Britannia, the amazing fantasy land of Knights, Magic and mythical beasties, where people say "dost" and "thou" a lot, and Earth, that planet we all come from. The premise is that the Avatar lives on Earth, until some shit goes down in Britannia and you've got to mission over there to sort said shit out. Kind of like with Batman and the Bat signal or the Commissioner with his red phone, but I digress.

dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip: The Logic of Chance

Following up their excellent 2008 debut album, Angles, wasn't going to be easy. With The Logic of Chance they show that they are still up to the game, albeit slightly worn out from the first round.

Their second offering suffers in much the same way most movie sequels do. It lacks the punch of the first and ends up relying more on special effects at the expense of substance. The Logic of Chance is still a solid album, if not as hard-hitting as before.

Angles provided blistering social commentary and introspective narrative which unfortunately isn't quite matched this time around. 'Great Britain' is about the slowly decaying state of society in what was once a centre of culture and colonial power, now reduced to nothing but binge drinking and teenage knife fights caught on CCTV. Youth themes appear again in the memorable single 'Get Better', with Pip simply asking kids to stop knocking each other up and to get some education. It tries hard to be an inspirational song, and succeeds somewhat, though others may criticise Pip's preaching from the pulpit as a tad condescending. 'Stake A Claim', a catchy tune about one's rights in a democracy, is well-timed, with the UK election having just been held. This demonstrates Pip's ability not only to be timely, but to cover a wide range of ground, from telling stories to providing inspiration. However, over the course of the album one gets the impression Pip is becoming increasingly cynical about the state of his nation, as in 'Last Train Home', where he complains about drunks on the train who've pissed themselves.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Imminent Scott Pilgrim

I really pity people who don't read comics.

Comics provide the kind of genre-busting kickass action that you really don't seem to get anywhere else. Comics are trash culture that frequently have moments of literary brilliance that you're never likely to find anywhere else in any other medium. Comics get away with everything. They fly under the radar from asshat Christian groups and other conservative assholes who try the damndest to ban everything awesome in the world.

Brian Lee O'Malley's Oni Press Scott Pilgrim series offices a premise so delightfully simple and unique that it can't help but grab your attention:

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Boy must defeat girl's seven evil exes to go out with girl.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Forgiveness Rock Record

I figured I'd better crank out something so Jay doesn't get annoyed that no one else is writing anything, and so Raoow doesn't turn into the "Czech Experience blog."

I wanted to write a review for Forgiveness Rock Record, the new album from Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene, but I realised that these days, I don't really have the time to sit there and listen to it and think about it, and I also realised I'm probably not equipped with the skill set to just listen to music and really deconstruct it. Not in any short time frame anyway.

So, after preordering it and having a bit of a listen, I thought I'd do a first impressions write-up of the new album instead.

One of the first things I noticed was the major reduction of input from the notable Canadian Indie-Scene ladies (Emily Haines, Amy Millan and Leslie Feist) that have always been involved in Broken Social Scene over the years. On Forgiveness Rock Record they seem to have taken a bit of a backseat to Lisa Lobsinger, who I understand they brought on to fill in for the female vocal bits during live touring when the other girls had commitments to their own bands. It makes sense for them to do this, to keep a bit of consistency between studio and live acts, and Lobsinger is clearly capable enough. I remember seeing Broken Social Scene in Wellington a few years back, but it was just the dudes, and the songs with heavy amounts of female vocals were dropped altogether, except for 7/4 (Shoreline) where they brought some chick from some band called the Teacups on who clearly couldn't handle the vocal component. Maybe she'd been drinking. Or smoking heavily. I don't know. Besides Feist singing the track Chase Scene (which I actually quite like) with Kevin Drew, I think the only song where the three usual ladies sing is altogether on Sentimental X's where Emily Haines' voice pretty much dominates.

Customer Service

I witnessed something fascinating today.

I was in Tesco with a Czech friend of mine. At the checkout the lady started making small talk with us and giggled to herself when I spoke Czech. She even asked for some English to Czech translation. For those of you who've read my earlier post, I don't need to explain that this was totally out-of-the-ordinary. It was a nice change, having someone smile at me and be nice for once.

We left, and I was feeling quite bright and chirpy.

"She was annoying", my Czech friend said.

Monday, 3 May 2010


Just last week, we had 'Bigotgate'. Gordon Brown said some stuff in private without turning off his microphone. First of all, the word bigot isn't a swearword. It's someone who is intolerant of people with differing opinions. And? At least he didn't call her a f***ing b*tch.

But I call to attention the name of the so-called "scandal". For those of us from NZ, who can forget 'Paintergate' and 'Corngate'? In fact, there are many more of them, with names such as 'Fajitagate', the very originally named 'Liegate', and I'mma let you finish, Kanyegate.

The media need to get over the use of the -gate suffix every time there is some kind of scandal. It's not original. It's not funny. It's not good journalism. Most of these "scandals" barely warrant being called scandals, let alone being compared to Watergate. Though in the land of the soundbite and catchphrase, I can see why few have spoken out about it before.

Anyone have suggestions for a replacement?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

My View of China

The entire Raoow! editorial team just arrived back from China where we were for a wedding. I managed to sneak back into Europe two hours before the ash cloud crippled the continent, though others weren't so lucky. Right now my girlfriend is stuck on a beach in Egypt, and another Raoow! contributor is trying to find a route back to London from Shanghai. No matter how great we think we are, mother nature has a way of putting us in our place. Anyway, I thought it was timely to write about what I thought about my time in China, outside of my memorable wedding experience. Blogger is blocked in China, as is YouTube and Facebook, hence the lack of updates for the past couple of weeks. I didn't miss being disconnected, though I can understand those who say that China is in danger of becoming a big intranet. It seems so closed off, and even though Shanghai is an international city, once out of it English is of little use and you get the odd stare from passersby.

Czech Easter Traditions

This is a late post due to the Raoow! team trip to China.

Last year I went to a Moravian village in Czech Republic to experience a traditional Easter, and I did the same thing this year. On Sunday there is a village wine tasting held in the local "culture house", with a thousand different wines to try, and on Easter Monday groups of boys walk around the village with willow whips and visit various girls to whip them on the ass while reciting a poem. I'm not kidding. The whipping symbolises good health, beauty and youth, though most girls hide in their houses hoping the local boys think they're not home. They're usually invited in for pastries, wine and slivovice, and they're also given a decorated boiled egg.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Dylan Horrocks

I first heard about Dylan Horrocks three or four years ago after I finished reading the long-running Vertigo Comics series The Books of Magic. Created by Neil Gaiman, and later written by others, the series featured boy-magician Tim Hunter, a protagonist with strikingly similar characteristics to Harry Potter, yet published a full six years before Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. After The Books of Magic was done, it was logical to read the next instalment, The Names of Magic, written by one Dylan Horrocks. Books was a long, surreal twisted ride, and I remember noting that Names was far more grounded (nice art by Richard Case, also), which is by no means a bad thing. I enjoyed Names immensely, and got a hold of the follow-up, Hunter: The Age of Magic as soon as I could (thanks the internet!). I really liked his work, and wanted to find out more about him, and I was surprised to find out he was a New Zealand writer-cartoonist who I had never heard of before. Hicksville dropped out of print, and I’d been trying to get a hold of it for years, so now that it has recently been re-released through Victoria University Press, I thought it would be a good time to write about the guy. I got to meet him this evening at the Wellington book launch of Hicksville and I put this blog post together with help from interviews and articles from other magazines and websites, including Horrocks’ own site at http://www.hicksville.co.nz/.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Czech Public Transport

I catch the tram to work every day. It's an efficient form of transport. Cheap, on time, high capacity, environmentally friendly. The one thing that drags it down are the people who use it. As my friend Kris puts it, Czechs have a tendency to adopt the "public transport face" as soon as they board a tram. A frown or scowl is commonplace. I've even started doing it without realising it. In New Zealand, we say "thanks driver!" when we get off the bus. Not here. The driver would sooner tell you to "go to the ass" than accept any kind of compliment.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Suburban Hydroponics

I live in a five-storey apartment building in a pretty decent area of town. No broken down cars, not much crime, quiet, Tesco just up the road, and a modest amount of graffiti. My apartment is what you would call a 'penthouse'; top-floor, balcony out front, terrace out back. It's not a bad place to live.

Last year I got some new neighbours directly below me. I didn't have many problems with them until a couple of weeks later.

A Welcoming Haiku

Welcome to Raoow!

Eleven years in the making and we've finally made it.

You've found an eclectic mix of rants, raves, reviews, stories and general rubbish from four guys from New Zealand.

To kick things off, Chris recently dug a haiku up from the Raoow! archives: 

I'd understand him
if only he didn't use
misdeceiving words.