Out with the Old

Old mouse with a dodgy click, I consign you to oblivion.

The book I've been struggling with for weeks now has been thrown on the reject pile and replaced with something I'm steaming through (if I'd looked at the back of each and tried to guess which was the heavier read for me, I'd have been very wrong). Got a project at work that I'm enjoying, even if the rest of the drudgery is still there. And the sun is shining and the weather warm, even when it suddenly buckets down as it did this morning.

Now if only I could crystallise my various nebulous ideas into a coherent, well defined story of limited scope.


"The other therapist didn't work out for you."

Konami's Silent Hill series is essentially the classier, spookier cousin to Capcom's Resident Evil franchise, but although you may have noticed I'm a big Resi fanboy, I've never really had a chance to play a Silent Hill game until now. And I have to say that the series has never seemed more tempting. As Resident Evil devolves into standard shoot-em-up territory, Konami, having attempted to do something similar with Silent Hill, then decided to pull an about-face, getting British independent games studio Climax to make a Silent Hill game in which the protagonist can barely fight back at all.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories begins with Harry Mason driving through the snowbound and deserted summer holiday resort of Silent Hill, with his daughter Cheryl. When he skids off the road and crashes the car, he comes round to find that Cheryl is nowhere to be seen. Harry wanders off into the town in search of her, but as he explores and meets the few people around, he's confronted by facts that seem at odds with his own memories, and even his current experiences are frequently contradicted at a later point by other characters. And then there's the little matter of how, every time he seems to be getting close to the truth, the world twists and freezes over - strange, skinless beings appearing to pursue Harry relentlessly.

These latter sequences are the game's weakest point. I certainly found them unnerving, but this very fact, combined with their frantic nature, simply made me solve them by running around in a blind panic. Initially I found these sequences extremely incongruous as well, but actually, as the game progressed I thought they acquired a better sense of purpose while becoming much better married to the other parts of the game - which in itself is a part of the wider progression of the story towards conveying exactly what is going on.

Still, the game's non-chase segments are more my preference, involving simply exploring the town of Silent Hill, interacting with characters and solving puzzles by manipulating objects semi-intuitively with the Wii remote. As much as the chase sequences gave me the heebie-jeebies, it was these more sedate and grounded scenes that I found by far more scary - from supernatural chills such as chasing a shadow Cheryl with your flashlight, to more mundane scares such as internal bleeding following a blow to the head (the latter being a part of a sequence that I found genuinely very upsetting).

The third set of scenes are where it gets really interesting: the game's framing narrative involves sitting on a psychiatrist's couch and answering his questions and tests. The rest of the game comprises the story that you are telling him. As the very first loading screen makes clear, these questions and tests are used to shape your experiences in the rest of the game (although your behaviour is also analysed elsewhere). For example, my Cybil was a homely police woman wearing a realistic cold-climate uniform. A player who showed more interest in getting sexual images out of the game would instead have found Cybil to be a blonde bombshell whose stripper-esque outfit can barely contain her cleavage.

This is really interesting to me as a development in interactive narrative. Although the events you experience can change, the story is generally linear. The interactive part of this story is rather in that it shapes itself to be the story that it thinks you should experience. Looking through the Silent Hill wiki, I'm surprised just how much the game got right for me - I definitely think I was much happier getting the events and characters that I got from the game compared to some of the others that it might have given me. Of the three different Dahlias, for example, I found the “punk” version I got to be much more my kind of gal than the “seductive” or “tomboy” versions.

And then there's the ending. Holy fucking shit. I don't know if any others saw this coming, but I found it to be the perfect culmination of misdirection and foreshadowing. It was so surprising and tragic, but hopeful (again, something that the game selected based on its psychological profiling of me), such a beautiful shock, that I actually started properly crying. Which is a first for me and a video game.

As someone with a penchant for interactive storytelling, I think Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one of the most powerful and well devised examples of how to shape a story in tandem with your audience that I've yet encountered. Its chief flaw is that it perhaps tries a little too hard to be a video game. Although I enjoyed the puzzles, and the chase sequences did grow on me, ultimately they were never as powerful as the experience of exploring a convoluted and deeply psychological narrative. If you're interested in survival horror games, this may or may not be for you. But if you're interested in storytelling, then you owe it to yourself to check this out. You may not find the story as deeply moving as I did, but it will definitely teach you something about how it can be done.


Something's going to get done.

What? I don't know. How much? Probably not much. When? Now!

Well, not right now, I'm off to bed. But, like, tomorrow and over the weekend.

I have a dream of actually reaching a milestone in my big project. Or at the very least defining a small project. If I don't melt from the oppressive heat.


So did anyone in England get work done this afternoon, or was it essentially an unofficial holiday?

Also, what are those two blokes doing at Wimbledon?


Space Rocks, Clouds

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Cassini captured this group photo of two of the Solar System's best looking moons, with the varied terrain of Dione standing out especially sharply against the thick clouds of Titan.



Really, really want to feel I've achieved something creatively sometime soon, but I don't seem to have the energy for it. Hopefully the days I booked off next week will help me recharge my batteries and/or get something done.

I'm also kind of dithering over trying to reach a milestone in my big project, starting a new, smaller project, or repurposing my big project into something smaller.


Time Tube

When the lifts at Notting Hill Gate tube station were replaced with escalators, the passageway leading to them was sealed off, along with the late-fifties advertisements plastered to its walls. This passageway has now been rediscovered, along with its remarkably well-preserved posters - images of which have been posted to a Flickr gallery.

(Saw this on London Tonight - not sure if the video's viewable outside the UK.)


I need a new phone

The one I have is four years old; a telecommunications fossil.

Also, one of the keys came off, due to an incident.


What have I done?!

Adiós old NASA headers, hello brand new Blogger template. I probably wouldn't have gotten around to this if Google didn't seem to be on a quest to prettify everything up. These new templates are pretty cool, although a lot of the background images suffer from the same issues as the ones available for the Google homepage - they're gorgeous images by themselves, but they don't fit so nicely around the content.

Still, this image of Earth is rather nice, although if I can figure out how to upload my own background image I'll probably change it to something from Cassini...

Let me know if you have any issues with functionality/readability/accessibility etc.


Top 25 WW1 aces and their ages

1.Manfred von Richthofen25 when killed
2.René Fonck24 at end of war
3.Edward Mannock30 when killed
4.Billy Bishop24 at end of war
5.Ernst Udet22 at end of war
6.Raymond Collishaw24 at end of war
7.James McCudden23 when killed
8.Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor24 at end of war
9.Erich Loewenhardt21 when killed
10.Donald MacLaren25 at end of war
11.Georges Guynemer22 when killed
12.William George Barker24 at end of war
13.Josef Jacobs24 at end of war
14.Werner Voss20 when killed
15.Robert A. Little23 when killed
16.George McElroy25 when killed
17.Fritz Rumey27 when killed
18.Albert Ball20 when killed
19.Rudolph Berthold27 at end of war
20.Bruno Loerzer27 at end of war
21.Paul Bäumer22 at end of war
22.Tom F. Hazell26 at end of war
23.Charles Nungesser26 at end of war
24.Georges Madon26 at end of war
25.Oswald Boelcke25 when killed

Order as per Wikipedia. It was going to be the top 20 until I noticed I could get Nungesser and Boelcke on there too.

Edward Mannock was the oldest of this group, at 30. He was an exceptional pilot in a lot of ways, not least with the amount of effort he devoted to ensuring that the younger pilots under his command (who knew him simply as "Mick") were properly schooled in how to survive. His devotion to his comrades manifested as an intense hatred of German pilots, and his actions and beliefs were a stark contrast to the perception of the First Air War as chivalrous.

Albert Ball and Werner Voss are the youngest listed, both aged 20 when they were killed.

Voss was a close friend and rival of Manfred von Richthofen. His final dogfight became legendary, as he single-handedly held off a squadron of planes led by James McCudden, before finally being shot down. "His flying was wonderful," McCudden said of Voss, "his courage magnificent and in my opinion he is the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight."

Ball was a loner who was valued highly for his propaganda value. He spent his time on the ground gardening by himself, and the letters he wrote home showed a young man struggling with the repressive nature of his role, and his growing unhappiness at killing so many pilots. He crashed while pursuing the Red Baron's brother, Lothar von Richthofen, although it's unclear who (if anyone) shot him down.


Stuff What's Going On

-Diane Abbott as opposition leader? Okay, of course we're going to wind up with a Brownite or Blairite who's only there to play the Machiavellian game (and of course it's going to be David Milliband), but it would be nice to imagine an actual left wing voice in there somewhere.

-Gonna give the ol' blog a bit of a spring clean at some point. Would be nice to be able to post widescreen YouTube videos properly.

-Getting a bit disheartened at my project. I think I just have to keep slogging through it until I've laid down the groundwork for the whole length of it, and just this seems hard enough. Struggling to feel like I've acheived anything, or even that what I've got so far is worth all this effort. Still chipping away at it, bit by bit.


Yes, Yes I Think So

Given my interest in interactive naratives and environments, you could be forgiven for thinking I might rate the original Deus Ex more highly than I do. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot I love about it, but there's also a lot I didn't think worked so well. Still, the basic concept of a globe-trotting cyberpunk game with an emphasis on letting you play the way you want to gets huge props from me for being a bold step in an ambitious direction.

There's no telling if Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be more my style than the original, but this trailer has me pretty juiced - neon cityscapes, cyborg modification, civil unrest... and driving music that lends it a Christopher Nolan-esque feel.


ESA Dazzles

Credit: ESA

Although I wish they were as open as NASA, I'm still glad that the European Space Agency exists and does good work. And every so often we members of the public do get a little reward - perhaps none greater than this beautiful video taken by Mars Express, showing an "astronaut's eye view" of an orbit around Mars.

Go watch it immediately.



Via (with transcript)