Pippin Barr's note-perfect recreation of The Shining as an 8-bit game.# Monday Mar 7, 2016
Cheap, easy to use, surprisingly decent resolution. I think I'm going to be picking one up myself. For my kid, of course.# Tuesday Feb 16, 2016
I've never seen an AMA go so badly that the celebrity answered nothing and deleted their reddit account. Example question:
# Monday Feb 15, 2016
Are you the same guy that started a charity for his country then stole that money?
The Witness is a frustrating game. Not just because the puzzles are hard, but because the game demands so much of your time (I've spent hours on individual puzzles) and because the world hints at so much but appears to deliver (from where I'm standing, at least) so little apart from more puzzles for you to bash your head against. So it's nice to step back and just appreciate the beauty of the world they created.# Tuesday Feb 9, 2016
2015 is the year that open-world games broke me. Remember a few years ago, when everyone was complaining about "shooter fatigue" because it seemed like every game we played was the same thing where you shot at things and the only thing that changed were the things that you shot at? That's how I'm feeling about open-world games right now. They're great if you want to spend days and days in the world of a game, but that just sounds like work to me. Personally, I'd prefer a short, authored experience. Anyway, this explains why there are some high-profile games that aren't on this list1 - they were probably open-world games that just didn't get their teeth into me.
e.g. Metal Gear Solid V, which I have played enough of to appreciate was a really well-made game, just not one of my favourites
This is an unranked list, but if I was going to rank it, Rocket League would be the clear winner. It's a football game, you hit the ball into the opponent's net. But instead of controlling a player, you're driving a car. A car with a rocket on the back of it. It sounds like a joke, right? Well, Rocket League was the most fun I've had in any video game all year. The local multiplayer is great fun, screaming laughing with your pals as one of you pulls off some ridiculous goal. Which is great by itself, but it's also got a real depth to it. Watch some high-level videos and it's like a whole different game. What I love most is that it's genuinely the best football game I've played. All the other games, like FIFA, are trying to recreate the experience of watching football. Rocket League is recreating the experience of playing football. Favourite game of 2015.
This is only the second ever video game (after Silent Hill 2) that my wife has ever played to completion. FMV is back!
The Witcher 3
Okay, so I realise it was only just a minute ago that I was complaining about open-world games. And here's an open-world game on my list. What the hell, John? Listen, my main complaint with open-world games is that it's a way for the developers to artificially stretch out a game, to make it seem bigger than it actually is. And they can use it to hide a lot of the cruft in their actual narrative writing, going "ooh, but isn't the environmental storytelling so good?" The Witcher 3 had actually great writing underpinning it. It's dense, but accessible. There are quests here that I'm still thinking about, months after I put the game down. The open-world nature of it was incidental to the actual game. I haven't enjoyed being in a game's world this much since Red Dead Redemption.
It seems like every year I make these lists, there's at one entry that could be accused of not really being a game. This year it's Panoramical. And sure, it's not very game-like. It's more like a peaceful, meditative toy. There's no win-state to the game. You're just presented with a series of landscapes with different visual and audio tracks, and you control the levels of these tracks. That's it. That's the whole game. Play away. You finish when you've had enough. There's some real beauty here, if you're into that kind of thing. I really am.
The Beginner's Guide
For the first hour or so of The Beginner's Guide, I was in awe at the inventiveness of the game. It seemed like creator Davey Wreden was just showing off. At the very end of the game, there's a revelation. And this completely upended everything I'd just experienced. I immediately played through it again and, even though it was the exact same content, I had a totally different experience. That someone can do something ambitious like this and just fucking nail it so hard is pretty impressive. When you know the back-story and realise this game is actually about something so deeply personal? Yeah, maybe he is showing off.
Even though the two are nothing alike, playing Sunless Sea triggers the same part of my brain that is triggered when I play board games like HeroQuest. There's this wonderful, tactile feeling to the game, like you're playing with lovely hand-crafted miniature pieces in a world where anything can happen and there are million stories to tell. I've played a few different games of Sunless Sea now and they've always gone in different directions. I have a feeling I'll still be coming back to this in 2016.
Super Mario Maker
Okay, let's say you're not interested in making any levels yourself. And let's say you're not completely won over by the most charming presentation in any game ever. Then there's these three words: infinite Mario levels. You can just download other peoples' creations and have an almost limitless supply of Mario levels for you to play and enjoy. If this still isn't enough for you, then I just don't know what to say to you.
Star Wars Battlefront
For a game that got fairly mediocre reviews, I had a fucking blast with Star Wars Battlefront. It's not trying to be the deepest game ever made. It's just trying to be a fast, casual, fun, and really, really ridiculously good-looking Star Wars game. And that's exactly what it is.5 minute read # Thursday Dec 31, 2015
Long one, but completely worth your time. The point SecretGamerGrrl makes about the shared language of hate groups nails what I found so troubling about the recent anti-feminist posts by Scott Adams and Eric S. Raymond. It's easy to dismiss them and say that we should just expect these kinds of posts from white, cis, middle-age men, but it shows that they're just a hop, skip and a jump away from something really dangerous.# Tuesday Dec 1, 2015
The producers of Homeland hired a bunch of street artists to graffiti the sets, to make it seem 'authentic'. The artists used the opportunity to write a load of anti-Homeland slogans in Arabic and no-one noticed. Just wonderful.# Thursday Oct 15, 2015
Siva Vaidhyanathan, media studies professor at the University of Virginia, talking about the worst-case scenario in an all-digital world:
“Amazon has done so much to bully both readers and publishers. And yet if it were to collapse, it would cause chaos.”
At the root of that chaos would be the immense loss of media, and the wholesale disappearance of works—not just from personal collections, but altogether. “At the start of the 22nd century, we are going to find ourselves in a situation with huge gaps in knowledge and culture. Because none of these companies will be around.”
P.T., an online-only game and one of my favourite games of last year, was removed from the PlayStation store by its publisher. You can’t download it again. If you want to play it now, your only option is to buy a second-hand PlayStation 4 with the game already installed on it. And once the hard drives die in these machines? That’s it, no-one will ever be able to play PT again.2 minute read # Thursday Oct 8, 2015
Old one, but still fantastic. Always amazing to see the process of someone who is just great at their job.1 minute read # Thursday Oct 8, 2015
Craig Mod has some theories surrounding the apparent decline in ebook sales. TL;DR: he reckons it’s mostly to do with the physical experience of reading on ereaders (and let’s be clear, when we say ‘ereaders’, there’s really only one player in town, the Kindle). For me, he borders too much on the fetishisation of the physical form of the book. For example, here's his description of the travel guide City Secrets
Bound in rust-coloured cloth, rough against the skin, with jet-black foil‑stamped lettering and a small key on the cover, City Secrets was skinny. The trim size was non‑standard, much taller than wide. It bent easily, fit handily into my jacket pocket, and was made with cover boards that had a reassuring springy resilience. The combination of the size and the cloth cover made it feel like a travel companion – a book that could take a beating, be dragged around the world, stored for years, and returned to, again and again.
It’s like Nigella-style food erotica for the lit crowd.
But I sort of agree with some of what he’s saying. As I mentioned before (and I’ll continue to mention at any available opportunity), I recently — finally! — finished Infinite Jest. Now, Infinite Jest is a goddamn doorstop. A thousand pages of some of the densest prose you'll find. It should be the perfect candidate for Kindle-reading. But I read the entire thing on a physical book. I hauled that monster in and out of the city every day on my commute, even though it took up most of the space in my bag, simply because it was just a more pleasant experience than reading on the Kindle.
The worst part is that a lot of the things that keep the Kindle from being a genuinely great reading experience (as opposed to an entirely passable one) are fairly minor. They're not insurmountable. They're mostly niggly details like shitty font options and character spacing that could most charitably be described as ‘schizophrenic’. And these issues are getting addressed, albeit at a glacial pace. This June, almost eight years after the first Kindle was first released and seven generations into the Kindle product line, Amazon released firmware that finally fixed its shitty hyphenation and layout engine.
So the changes are slowly coming, but Amazon’s reluctance to release any information or suggestions of where they plan to take the Kindle is baffling to me. Especially when it’s their mealticket item. Apple called the Apple TV their "hobby" and said nothing about its roadmap (until they finally did). Amazon seem to be treating the Kindle in the same way. Is it any wonder people are returning to books? I'm sure they'll be back to the Kindle when something dramatically enhance the experience on there, but who knows how long that will be?
Personally, there are two things I would love to see that would improve my relationship with the Kindle. First, release an updated Kindle DX. You know, the bigger Kindle. The "Kindle Pro". My neighbour in Rome, an editor, used to have one and it was the cadillac of readers even then. The resolution of the Kindle Voyage is finally at a print-like level, but the size of the actual screen means it’s useless for anything but imitating cheap paperbacks. A slightly larger physical screen would open the device up to so much more.
Second, and this is a cheap, simple win - I’d love to see the Kindle display the cover of the book I’m currently reading instead of the Kindle’s shitty generic screensavers. When I read a physical book, I am greeted by its cover every time I look at it. I know the name of the author, I know the name of the book. On the Kindle, this stuff is hidden away from everyday view, so it’s possible to read a book and have no idea of its title or who wrote it. You’re cut off from a relationship with the book in favour of a relationship with its content. The cover, that singular piece of design that, let’s face it, we almost always base our initial judgement of a book on, is completely removed on the Kindle. Without it, a book is just a collection of photocopied pages held together with sticky-tape.4 minute read # Monday Oct 5, 2015
For a great summary of the whole situation regarding the copyright of Happy Birthday, check out the most recent episode of the Reasonably Sound podcast. Because whoa, this is huge.# Wednesday Sep 23, 2015
As we continue on, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of ebooks and mobile reading.
With that, we will be taking steps to sunset the existing Oyster service over the next several months.
This is a real shame. Their product (Netflix for ebooks) was pretty good, but their Oyster Review was one of the best-curated sources of book recommendations on the internet. For proof of this, check out their list of the 100 best books of the decade so far. Can anyone suggest a replacement?# Tuesday Sep 22, 2015
Camera Restricta is a speculative design of a new kind of camera. It locates itself via GPS and searches online for photos that have been geotagged nearby. If the camera decides that too many photos have been taken at your location, it retracts the shutter and blocks the viewfinder. You can't take any more pictures here.
When I go to a concert (lol, like that's a thing I still do) and I see hundreds of cameraphones shooting up to take a photo of the lead singer, I wonder: what's the point of that? There's nothing tying you to that photo. Anyone could have taken it, so why not just go into Twitter or something and grab someone else's photo? Maybe even someone shooting with better equipment than you?
I don't think the Camera Restricta will catch on. People care too much about their fitness selfies. But I still love the idea of it.# Wednesday Sep 16, 2015
Some kind soul on Metafilter has collected together all of Alex Cox and Mark Cousins' introductions to Moviedrome. You could do a lot worse with your day than to spend a few hours watching these. They're like a complete film education in short, 10-minute burts. Warning: watching these will make you despair about the fact we don't have a show like this today.# Wednesday Sep 9, 2015
... I decided to be deliberate about marking achievements by eating one donut. Well, sometimes more than one, if it’s a really big deal. The act of donut-eating has actually helped me feel like I’m accomplishing my career goals.
This lady has the right idea.# Saturday Aug 29, 2015
We're in the middle of getting a terrifying amount of work done to our house in Marino, so we've temporarily decamped out to my mother-in-law's house in Greystones1. My commute into work has switched from a 15-20 minute cycle each way to a 50-minute train ride each way. As a result of this new-found extra (dead) time, my reading has gone through the goddamn roof in the seven weeks since I've been out here. Instead of just the few minutes of reading I can snatch before falling asleep, I've got these huge swathes of time in my day where there is almost nothng else to do but read. Here's a graph of my reading, based on what I've logged to Goodreads:
I'm finishing books I'd previously started and given up on (e.g. A Wrinkle in Time2), and books I'd been too terrified to even begin (e.g. Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop).
As a result of this, I've decided there will probably never be a better time to tackle Infinite Jest.
Infinite Jest will be the eleventh book I've read in the seven weeks I've been out in Greystones. In this time, no-one has ever come up and commented to me about the book I'm reading. Even when I'm reading stuff that I secretly want people to come and talk to me about (e.g. John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van3), nothing.
On Friday evening, as the train came into the station in Greystones, after I'd packed my copy of Infinite Jest into my coat and got my coat on, a complete stranger came over and sat down beside me. "Sorry, I couldn't help but notice the book you're reading there. How are you getting on with it?" I told him how I was really happy - I'm enjoying it because I'm actually making significant progress in the book (currently on page 305, which is the first time I've even got past page 100). "Yeah, stick with it. There'll be parts in there that will make you want to give up, but stick with it, it's totally worth it", he said.
"Oh, I don't intend to, I've also got a non-fiction book going at the same time to keep me sane", I said.
"Good idea! Well..."
And then, awkward silence, because what else is there to say?
Now I feel awkward. Does this interaction mean I'm part of the problem, a pretentious DFW lit-bro? Do I now need to give up on Infinite Jest entirely, just in case I fall into some stereotype?
I get home and I tell the above story to my wife. She says "yeah, that's weird!" She knows this isn't my first time trying to make my way through Infinite Jest. and asks me how many pages I've read of it this time. I tell her just over three hundred.
"How many pages are in the book?"
"Nine hundred and something, not including footnotes. So I'm about a third of the way through. I'm pretty happy with my progress!"
"Yeah, but you're not halfway through."
There's an entire blog post to be written about the differences between living in Greystones vs living in Marino, but this is not that blog post. 2: Which I gave up on previously because it felt like it was dull and overrated and which, having now finished it, I can confirm, is indeed, dull and overrated. 3: If you've read this book, please hit me up on Twitter. I'd love to find more people (read: literally anyone) to talk to about it.
A couple of weeks ago, Jamie Harrington appeared on Humans of Dublin talking about how he helped save a suicidal man by just asking if he was okay.
I was just on my way to the American sweet shop to buy some Gatorade, when I saw this guy in his 30s sitting on the ledge of the bridge. I just thought, "wow..." I stopped and asked him if he was okay, but I knew from the look in his eyes he wasn't, and he didn't say anything either, but I saw tears coming from his eyes. I pleaded with him for a while to come down and sit on the steps, and eventually he did. We sat on the sidewalk on the south side of the Liffey and talked for about 45 minutes, about what was happening to him, why was he feeling that way…
(If you'd rather hear him tell the story, he was on the August 8th edition of RTÉ's Playback - skip to ~30'00)1 minute read # Thursday Aug 20, 2015
From the IMDB's trivia page for The Hateful Eight:
According to Quentin Tarantino, this show is inspired by the Western television shows Bonanza (1959), The Virginian (1962) and The High Chaparral (1967): "Twice per season, those shows would have an episode where a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage. I love it in a Western, where you would pass halfway through the show to find out if they were good or bad guys, and they all had a past that was revealed. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens!"
I wasn't crazy about Django Unchained, but I'm pretty sold on this.
(Also, it's hard to believe this is only Tarantino's eighth film.)1 minute read # Thursday Aug 13, 2015
Google (n.): The kind of fun, colorful name you stick with to conceal the fact that your mega-corporation has become objectively terrifying.
Perfect.# Thursday Aug 6, 2015