Crossfit

A few days ago, I celebrated my one-year Crossfit anniversary. “Celebrated” is a bit of a weird word to use here, isn’t it? Would you say you “celebrated” being a year in a gym? I’ve never marked this in any of the gyms I’ve been a member of, so what makes Crossfit different?

For me, going to the gym has always been a solitary thing. You go, you set yourself up at your little station, you work out and you don’t speak to anyone. You’re in the zone.

Crossfit is different. Crossfit is about the sense of community. I go to Ronin Crossfit and, honestly, I’ve never found anywhere with such a consistently solid group of people. They don’t just make you feel welcome, they make you feel like you’re part of a team.

I’ll give you an example.

In February, they organised a sponsored 100 burpee challenge for Suicide or Survive (if you don’t know what a burpee is, consider yourself lucky). Lots of people said that one of the conditions of sponsoring me is that I had to make a video of me doing the burpees. I’m glad I did because it captured something I really love. Here’s that video:

Now, as you can see from that video, I’m not an athlete. I found the 100 burpees really hard and I was so slow it’s kind of embarassing. But did you see that? At the end of the video, when people had finished and I was still struggling and wanted to give up, people — real athletes who had finished ages ago — came over to cheer me on. One guy had finished his hundred and did my last ten burpees with me. He wasn’t showing off, he was showing solidarity.

Crossfit isn’t about being the strongest athlete in the room or beating other people, it’s about beating yourself. It’s about finding your own limits and pushing them. The other people are there to help you achieve this. And that’s the exactly what you see in that video. Without those people cheering me on, maybe I would have given up, I dunno, but I know I definitely would have taken much, much longer. And they’re celebrating with me because they know I hit a wall and kept going. And that’s not just reserved for special occasions. Even in our daily workouts, the person who lifts 40kg for the first time gets as big a cheer as the person who lifts 120kg for the first time.

That’s what I love about Crossfit. Here’s to another year.

Marilyn

This is probably one of my favourite pictures ever. It’s Bruce Davidson’s photo of (l-r) Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Marilyn Monroe and her husband at the time, Arthur Miller, at a dinner party in Montand’s apartment. The whole thing is like a Mexican standoff in glances.

Apple Ireland

Apple are famous for sweating the small stuff. They pay attention to the tiniest details, the things that hardly anyone notices but make a huge difference to a user’s experience of their product.

Apple Ireland, on the other hand, appear to be a bunch of goddamn clowns. This could be a larger blog post about what it’s like to be an Apple consumer in Ireland (other possible topics: no TV shows in iTunes store, no visual voicemail on the iPhone etc. etc.), but let’s just limit it to one thing: the film section of the iTunes store

One of the things I really like about the film section of the iTunes store is the ‘themed’ bundles. For example, during fashion week, they had a sale on 25 films about fashion. Now it’s Halloween and they’re doing  a sale on 25 horror films.

Click into this and you’ll get this list of films:

Can you spot the obvious mistake? That’s right, in this list of 25 horror films, there are only 24 films.

If you change iTunes store to United Kingdom, you’re presented with the full list of films. Apparently, we’re not getting Cabin in the Woods as part of this sale although it’s still available in the Irish iTunes store for €16.99

But the fuckery doesn’t stop there! Even in the Irish store, you can see that The Blair Witch Project is in the €6.99 sale. Except when you click into it…

(Again, in the UK store, this film is listed at the ‘sale’ price.)

Apple Ireland have definitely adopted the Irish attitude of “Ah sure it’ll be grand”. I’m just not sure how well this works with Apple’s overall reputation as a company that sweats the small stuff.

EA Sports UFC

(This review first appeared on thumped.com)

I’m having real trouble trying to figure out who EA Sports UFC has been made for.

Was it made for the hardcore fans of UFC as a sport? I mean, it’s got 97 current fighters all realistically modelled, animated and rendered. Their Conor McGregor even has that God-awful gorilla chest-tattoo he got recently. This means that rather than just using a generic fighting model with a different ‘skin’ for each fighter, each fighter in EA Sports UFC moves and behaves like their real-life counterpart. They have the same strengths and weaknesses (or at least, they’re supposed to – lots of fans have been scratching their heads at some fighters’ stats, some of which seem wildly off-kilter). These are things that will mostly appeal to the hardcore UFC fighting fans, because they’re the only ones that will pick up on them. Plus the game copies the basic control scheme from the previous UFC games, so the hardcore fans who are familiar with THQ’s games will be able to hit the ground running with this game.

Unfortunately, if they’re targeting the hardcore fan, I can’t imagine it being anything but a bit of a disappointment. UFC is a visceral, vicious sport that’s all about cracking heads. But the fighting in the game feels weightless and floaty. Despite the amazing graphics engine, blows never actually feel as if they’re connecting, so a lot of the fights are spent just watching health meters because they’re the only real indication of how you’re doing. Only a few years ago, this same development team introduced a HUD-less fighting game, where you could tell how tired/battered your player was just by looking at them. It’s hard not to see EA Sports UFC as anything but a step back.

And it’s not just the floaty, toothless fighting game that will drive the hardcore fans bananas. The game’s transitions between the various stages of fighting (standing up, in the clinch and on the mat) are painfully disjointed and mechanical with no sense of grace or fluidity. The game is full of canned animations that bring everything to a standstill until the animations have completed. Then there’s also the fact that some of the sport’s more ‘simple’ moves actually require a fairly complex combination of inputs on the joystick, but some of the sport’s more difficult moves are just one or two button-presses. So it’s entirely possible to just spam flying knee kicks and win 90% of your matches (I tested this and won around half of my matches on ‘hard’ difficulty by just spamming the one move over again). In a sport that prioritises technique and finesse, this confusing mess of a control set-up is another of the game’s disappointments.

So maybe the game wasn’t made for the hardcore UFC fan. Maybe it’s there for the more casual fighting fan. People like me, who think that the whole arcade fighting game genre peaked with Rocky on the Gamecube, or maybe Fight Night Round 3 on the Xbox 360. In which case, EA have completely misjudged this game’s introduction. It starts by dropping you into an extended tutorial sequence that attempts to familiarise you with some of the basic controls before finally dumping you into an actual exhibition fight. But considering the sheer number of controls, it’s a bit like saying “Okay, press this button. Great. Press this lever. Great. Now these 200 other buttons. Great. Now fly this plane.” If you haven’t played a UFC game before, you’ll be overwhelmed by the controls and immediately left feeling frustrated as the game kicks your ass and asks if you want a rematch. And when you don’t know what you did wrong in the first place, a rematch is a grim, unappealing option.

The short ‘career’ mode is where the game should open up for newcomers. You choose a fighter (or create one yourself) and take them through the various stages of The Ultimate Fighter, an actual reality TV show where contestants compete for a chance to enter into the UFC. Between fights, you practice the moves you briefly saw in the tutorial, running drills until you can actually use them in some sort of sensible way. Then you fight one-on-one against a computer opponent to progress to the next round. Repeat, repeat until you’ve won your ‘contract’. As a relative newcomer to UFC games, this is where the game finally started to make sense for me. It didn’t make it much more enjoyable – the complaints about the weak-ass fighting system still stand and the opponent AI was underwhelming – but at least I could say I finally started to get my head around what some of the buttons did and when I should use them.

Being able to create my own fighter and bring him through career mode definitely helped with the enjoyment of the game. Rather than creating something sensible, I created a 300-lb man-child called “Dick ‘Jumbo’ Wang” from Bosnia and Herzegovina (the commentators actually use your nickname and surname in fights and having them say stuff like “Jumbo Wang is taking a heck of a beating” never stopped being funny for me), with easily the worst stats in the game.

As well as providing you with just enough customization options to make your fighter look like a mongoloid sex-pest like I did, you can give your fighter some tattoos. There are pages and pages of dragons and tribal patterns (no God-awful gorilla chest-tattoos, disappointingly). In amongst all these is, bizarrely, a “In Memory of Cheryl” tattoo. And because the game lets you spam the shit out of these tattoos, Dick Wang has an “In Memory of Cheryl” tattoo everywhere the game would allow it: on his head, on his back, three times on his chest, twice on each arm and twice on each leg. I have no idea who the fuck Cheryl is, but Dick Wang must really miss her. I guess this says a lot about how easily amused I am, but it also says a lot about the game. The thing that amused me most wasn’t the exhibition fights, it wasn’t the multiplayer and it wasn’t the career mode. It was creating Dick Wang.

In the end, EA Sports UFC doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It doesn’t know who it’s trying to please, so it ends up not really pleasing anyone at all. It’s not engaging enough to be the essential next-gen UFC game the hardcore fans have been waiting for. And it’s so inaccessible for casual fans that they’ll be reduced to putting together hideous monsters in the character creation screen just to extract some entertainment from the game. I’ve no doubt that the next iteration of the game will be much better, but until then, this is definitely one to skip.

Elegy for a Dead World

Elegy for a Dead World – Kickstarter

I try not to post about the kickstarter campaigns I support (because there’s not enough disk space in the world for that – sorry wife!), but I’m willing to make a huge exception for this. It’s such a great idea: a game where you write the story of what you’re seeing. And then you get to share your story with other people. And you can read other people’s stories! This sounds amazing. Insta-back.

Recent film reviews

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd  Here are the most recent reviews I’ve written)

The Inbetweeners – ★ ½

I’m not sure the makers of this movie meant to channel Waiting for Godot, but that’s exactly what it reminded me of in places. Someone said that the Beckett play was one in which nothing happens, twice. Well, The Inbetweeners 2 is a film where nothing happens for forty-five minutes, then someone gets hit in the face with a lump of shit, then nothing happens again for another forty-five minutes.

If it wasn’t for the ten-second awob-a-bob-bob scene, there’d be nothing redeeming about this film.

Chef – ★ ★

Chef felt like Jon Favreau trying desperately to recreate the light, breezy feeling of Swingers. Instead, we get a film that breaks down halfway under the weight of its own self indulgence and we’re left with a film where Favreau has Sophia Vergara as an ex-wife and Scarlett Johansson as a girlfriend and where it’s apparently okay for two middle-aged men to sing “Sexual Healing” to a child they’ve locked in a van.

Pride – ★ ★ ★ ★

So the story of Pride might be told in broadest possible strokes, right down to the evil, cackling neighbour that bordered on panto-villain ridiculous. But despite this, it’s still the most wonderful, joyful film I’ve seen all year.

(Update Wed, 8th October: As usual, my wife and I don’t agree)

Dark Skies – ★ ★

There’s hardly a single original thought in Dark Skies. Almost every scene has been lifted wholesale from other films. The usual suspects – a bit of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a little of Signs, and even some of The Exorcist thrown in for good measure. This wouldn’t in itself be a bad thing except the film is just lifting them as if it’s ticking off a list of scenes it feels it needs to have. As a result, it tries to create an atmosphere of tension that climaxes about halfway through the film. Then, having painted itself into a corner, it then decides to lift from Poltergeist with J.K. Simmons in the Tangina role.

Dull.

Dredd – ★ ★ ★ ★

Watching this film again, I was impressed that they managed to take an off-the-shelf action setup AND YET make it into a great Judge Dredd film AND YET keep it true to its comic-book roots AND YET make it seem gritty and realistic and big-budget AND YET keep it spikey and not round off the edges to try and capture a large audience.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I really love this film.