Where have I been?

So it’s been almost two years since I’ve last done anything with this blog. There were times when I was meaning to, but I just never got around to it. Then I got really busy. So what have the last two years held for me.

Firstly, I got married at the tail end of 2013. Most of you already know about this, but it happened and it was a major event, so I’m including it.

Between the last time I posted here and the end of 2013, I went through two traditional jobs, once as an electrical apprentice and one in retail, neither lasting more than three months. I was still writing for Pixel Judge during this time, and since I was exercising my creativity there, didn’t feel up to trying to maintain this blog. All of the stuff I’ve written for them is still up there – go check it out (my favourites are in my Portfolio).

2014 was the year of change. I went to TAFE and studied IT, started looking for work in that industry (and failed to find any). Joined a government program that helps job seekers start their own businesses and ended up completing a 1-2 year Small Business Management course in 13 weeks, and started a business!! During this time, writing took a back-seat, since my time as severely limited. The Editor-In-Chief of Pixel Judge ended up letting me go because I couldn’t commit to the workload they needed me for, and looking back I almost burnt out because of the extreme stress of cramming 2 years worth of study into a comparatively tiny space.

The upside is, I’m now running my own IT Maintenance Company. We handle a variety of computer problems for home and small business users. Work is slow at the moment, but it’s picking up little by little. There’s more information on the business’ Website and Facebook Page, so check them out.

In my spare time I’ve started making Let’s Play Videos. They go up three days a week, and will continue to do so for as long as I can spare the time to make them. I might even start posting the videos here, and continuing the commentary in accompanying blog posts, but there are no promises at this point.

So that’s the last two years for me…hopefully this urge to write doesn’t burn itself out too soon this time…


The Message in the Music

So this blog has been fairly dark for a long time (what else is new), but if you’re absolutely wanting to read anything that I write, I’ve been reviewing games over at Pixel Judge since February. On with the show…

I’ve been listening to a lot of songs I haven’t really looked at in the past, two of which are the 1983 Tears For Fears Single ‘Mad World’, and it’s later cover for the 2001 movie Donnie Darko – performed by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews. While I generally tend to write off most commercial cover versions of songs as the efforts of lesser artists attempting to latch on the fame of their betters, I have a soft spot for anyone who takes the song and makes it their own – those who change the feel or the meaning of the song (or those who play it for comedy) – and this is one of the better examples that I’ve come across.

Here’s the original:

And here’s the Cover:

The only thing that’s different between the two is the musical arrangement, yet both inspire different feelings within me.

The way Tears For Fears arranged it, with the heavy synth and percussion, stirs feelings of impotent rage at the surrounding world, and the anguish that can come of that when there is no way of truly expressing that anger – expressing in that anguish that “I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad, the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had”, that there is no other way to express their frustration and anger at the mad world around them then to remove themselves from it entirely. It feels more like a young person’s embittered plea for something to make sense in a world that seems to be getting stranger and stranger.

Gary Jules’ version, with it’s slow piano and laid back lyrical performance, speaks more of a older person struggling with depression, left wondering how things had changed so rapidly, and what happened to the idealistic dreamer that they once were. Left with no ability to change their past, they see no potential in their future, and they lament that the only dreams they have that’s worth anything are the dreams in which they are dying….

So maybe this was a bit of a depressing song to talk about….in any case, are there any other examples of a cover bringing a different interpretation of a song to the table? Let us know you’re favourites.

Dystopian Future?

Note: this post was started several weeks ago, was stopped because I didn’t have access to the books I’m going to be talking about (being away from home at the time), and took a while to start back up again. So the events that inspired this post are a few weeks old, just bear that in mind.

I don’t make a secret of the fact that one of my favourite genres of novel/movie is Science Fiction – and I have a keen interest in those stories that present a Dystopian picture of the future (i.e. 1984; Brave New World; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner; V for Vendetta). So when John Carmack (One of the Founders of ID Software – one of the oldest game developers) tweeted recently that he’s been reading both of them (and comparing them – for reasons unknown), it got me seriously thinking (as my brain just decides to do around 1am while I’m trying to sleep) about both books (and the genre as a whole).

Warning: The following post may contain traces of Literary Deconstructionism, which will make my English Teachers very proud of me, and may cause me to cry myself to sleep tonight – since I have previously declared I would never use the skills taught in High School English, and am now proven wrong.

The first thing I did was respond to Mr Carmack, saying that both books are amazing (which they are, not recommended for younger readers, but good books), but I wonder whether society (Western, First-World, society in particular) has learnt the lessons that both books sought to teach – important lessons that they are.

Brave New World paints a picture of the end result of the never-ending search for happiness that many seem to be on today. It paints a world where everyone is kept supplied with a narcotic that functions as a sleeping pill, stress reliever, ‘personal “holiday” pill’, etc – all with no side effects – and no-one ages past 20, a society where people are bred to perform specific tasks in sterile laboratories, and conditioned in a way that not doing those jobs (or the set of predetermined tasks/activities they are bred for) is unthinkable. Those that are bred to be part of the upper classes (the thinkers, managers, scientists, etc) are given more freedom of choice, but are still heavily regulated by the government to prevent ‘tampering’ with the way society is set up. When a character from the outside is brought in, the criticism that he makes of the world created to supply endless happiness to everyone in the book’s climax is particularly scathing:

Mustapha Mond (Member of ruling government): We prefer to do things comfortably.”

John the Savage (not born in ‘civilised society’): “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

Brave New World is a book that is supposed to make you think ‘what are we as a society, as a people, giving up when we seek only our own comfort and happiness?’ I think the answer to that question is that, in giving up the ability to be unhappy, we give up the opportunity to find joy – a much deeper and more fulfilling emotion than happiness.

In contrast, 1984 paints a view of the world where the government has gone crazy with control. A society where at some point all the checks and balances that keep governments accountable to the people they represent are torn down. The government spies on its citizens (through mandatory listening/video devices in every place of residence), and tampers with any and all records – either to retroactively prove that they were right about an event (such as the forecasts for how well the economy will do), or to fabricate evidence against those who have become too troublesome to keep around (government members who have outlived their usefulness, or pre-revolutionaries). The only rebellion against this regime that we see the main characters (Winston and Julia) engaged in is minor – as minor rebellion is really all that they are capable of achieving – while there are only dreams of a major revolt on the part of the main character, nothing concrete ever happens, and the main antagonist of the story dismisses Winston’s fantasies outright. It paints a bleak picture (as does Brave New World, although I don’t want to spoil too much of either book), which was inspired by events in the past, and it is echoed still in one country today. While I don’t think that we will see a radical change in our society at some point in the future that brings us closer to the world of 1984, it does bring into focus a possible endpoint for our society’s obsession with security – personal, societal and national. If we already possess the ability to spy on people through their phones, etc – what is to stop people from using that same technology to prevent possible threats to their own power or way of life? Where is the line drawn now, and what prevents people from stepping over it?

In any case, this is feeling like it’s turning into paranoid raving, so I’ll just leave you all with the following quote, and some questions to think about:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture….In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.”  – Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

Have we as a society learnt the lessons that Aldus Huxley and George Orwell left in their writings? Are there lessons that the rest of the Utopian/ dystopian genre can teach us that we are forgetting? Are they lessons that everyone should learn? What do we stand to lose if people forget them?

Character Battle Royale

I’d like to talk about a game that a friend (who also loves video games) and I came up with a couple of weeks ago. Essentially, we pit two Video Game characters together in a verbal battle royal – basically calling each characters action in a turn based battle to the death.

In previous games we’ve generally used characters that we have created ourselves (so a character from any game with a custom character creation or stat building feature – mostly RPGs) and we’ve always drawn from RPGs or stat-building games, mostly beacuse those games offer a wider variety of skills and abilities to draw from, but I don’t see why a pre-defined character couldn’t be used as long as they are pitted against something similar (i.e. pitting Ezio Auditore [Assassins Creed] against The Lone Wanderer [Fallout 3] probably wouldn’t work, while pitting Ezio against Gordon Freeman [Half Life] probably could – and would be absolutely awesome!).

To start a match, you simply need to say which game you’re pulling a character from. Character strength can be completly variable – but having the max level and/or best equiptment for your character is advisable unless you want to cripple yourself for a more interesting match. However, it’s against the rules to have a character that breaks the rules that define the gameworld the character hails from (i.e. you cannot have a character from KotOR that possesses all of the force powers and feats – it’s impossible in the gameworld – or a Fallout character with perks that don’t match up with their skills and attributes – a non stealth character with the ninja perk is impossible to come by). You don’t immediately need to list every aspect of your characters skills and equipment – but you will need to keep track of what skills/abilities you’ve already used (so you don’t get caught out breaking the rules of the game).

To compensate for the differences in damage levels between games (i.e. Final Fantasy characters have very high health and damage (often over a couple of thousand for both), while my characters in Fallout are lucky to top 500 HP), damage roughly scales to fit the target (so a hit from a 2000 damage weapon from the FF character will do less than 100 to the Fallout character, and vice versa). Attacks and skills based on a probability system (the percentage to hit system in Fallout’s VATS system, or the modified DnD rules that KotOR is based on) that system roughly carries over (my friend and I agreed pretty much on just averaging the probability as simply as we could – but if you really want to get the dice out, feel free).

Other than these few guidelines, the game pretty much plays out like a complicated game of chess. Each player takes turns calling out a move (and explaining it if necessary), either as a defense against the last move that your opponent made (which cancels or reduces their last attack), or as an answering offensive move. Generally the win goes to the player who is the most imaginative (using a combination of the Metal Blaster and the Mysterious Stranger [Fallout 3] to take down a completely defensive player was my best win), and the one with the best grasp of their character’s abilities, and their opponent’s weaknesses (my friend using a Final Fantasy spell to lock my Jedi Guardian [a KotOR class that’s terrible with a lightsaber] into a basic saber attack was inspired).

I don’t know if I get any serious gamers reading this (at least, they never comment if they do), but I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing this with some of my friends, so if this sounds like your sort of thing, feel free to give it a go.

Rules of the Internet

So I’ve been thinking about posting a modified version of ‘The Rules if the Internet‘* for a while now – taking a few from the original (and a couple from other places around the interwebs) and a few of my own observations. This isn’t going to replace my regularly scheduled post, so look forward to that later this week, but I feel like writing a semi-humorous random post today.
The Rules of the Internet (as observed and written by me) are as follows:

1. Anything written online is complete bull unless it can prove otherwise.
1b. Occasionally things that can prove otherwise are complete bull anyway. Be aware!

2. When communicating online, Wheaton’s Law of Online Interactions** Supercedes rule #1

3. It’s safer to assume that everyone you meet is a Troll until you determine otherwise. However, don’t break rule #2 in your assumptions.
3b. Don’t argue with Trolls – to them, it’s an encouraging victory.
3c. When browsing in unknown territory, don’t feed the Trolls+ – it’s safer that way.

4. If it cannot be found online, you are obligated to make sure that future searchers will be able to find it – even if you need to write it from scratch
4b. This applies to everything from hardware issues with a computer, to an in depth analysis of an obscure ancient work.

5. Contrary to popular belief, there are members of the Female Gender on the Internet.
5b. If you are one of the people who believe otherwise, you just inhabit an area of the Internet where no self respecting Woman would ever go.

That’s all I can come up with at the moment – I’ve already spent longer on this than I thought I would for a fun aside – I may port this to a page rather than a post if I can come up with more rules during my travels.

P.s. The links contained in this post may not be safe for Children or the Easily offended – you have been warned.

*’The Rules of the Internet‘ being a loosely defined (and constantly changing) list of forum rules and popular sayings, mostly from the site \b\ – which is will not talk about here (citing rule 1)

**Wheaton’s Law of Online Interactions simply reads as follows: ‘Don’t be a dick’

+by ‘don’t feed the Trolls’, I mean don’t start a topic about anything that they can use to rile other people up.

EDIT: Remember rule #2? Wheaton’s Law of Online Interactions? It’s now got an official day to celebrate it – check it out!