Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Mythical 40-Hour Gamer

Wired has an interesting article about modern games and their longevity. The writer, Clive Thompson, points out that there is a large divide between two types of gamers. The first type are the hardcore players who have the time to commit themselves to a game for prolonged periods and run through even the longest games in no time at all. The second type are those with other commitments and interests - the casual gamers for whom gaming sessions can be expected to last an hour or so at best. For the first group, these games are just not long enough, and for the second, they're just too long.

Years ago, I belonged to the first group, and at the time I naively believed that I always would. If you enjoy something, you can make time for it, right? WRONG!(/Luthor) Gone are the days of gaming morning, noon, and night. Heck, I can't even call myself a gamer anymore really... the last time I played a game with any conviction was over two months ago! Sadly, the commitment of full time employment and the mundane responsibilities of adult life (many of which I admittedly eschew even now) reduces the time one has for such entertainments. Couple this with the fact that my limited free time is split up between an eclectic plethora of books, films, and tv shows, keeping up with the news, and the occasional health-concious physical activity, and you can see why the odds of me attaining gamer leetness are slim indeed.

The fact is, the burden of more responsibilites in the future will continue to eat away at my allotment of free time. I only hope that by the time I enter retirement I'll still have enough use of my senses and wits left to unwind a bit and catch up on the backlog.

I shall now return to attempting to play through Half-Life... and maybe this time I'll play the expansion packs as well. I'll blog about it when I finish, so the entry should appear on this site in another six months or so.

Monday, September 25, 2006


German 'filmmaker' Uwe Boll has apparently taken to hitting his critics. I've never seen a Boll film, but most reputable (and disreputable) sources claim that he is easily amongst the worst filmmakers working today, if not THE worst. This is the man responsible for House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and Bloodrayne, all of which are in the hallowed halls of the IMDB bottom 100.

As the BBC article states, Boll got the better of his critics in the ring after he challenged them to a boxing match. Apparently, his pugilistic skills are a tad better than his auteurist skills. Yeah, I know I shouldn't judge him before watching his films and that it's easier to hate things than to like them bla bla bla, but come on, films like Dungeons and Dragons, Wing Commander, and Battlefield Earth really are as bad as people describe, so there's no reason to expect any better from Boll's universally derided efforts.

I have to admit though, some of his interviews are a riot, quite possibly more entertaining than his movies!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Carter Beats the Devil

Carter Beats the Devil, the first novel by author Glen David Gold, is a fictional story about real-life magician Charles Carter that takes place across the first few decades of the twentieth century. I'd heard about the book someplace (Ain't It Cool, I think), and when I saw the 560 page hardback volume sitting on the library shelf I couldn't resist.

The book is essentially a period character piece that is steeped in magic - and by magic I don't mean fantasy magic, but the magic of illusions and misdirection. In many ways the book itself is composed of illusions and misdirection. It recounts key episodes in Carter's childhood, his years spent as a struggling magician, and his rivalry with the villainous magician Mysterioso. All this mixed up with a fair share of romance and tragedy.

The plot that comprises the bulk of the novel focuses on the aftermath of the death of President Harding shortly after he attends Carter's magic show. Carter comes under the scrutiny of the Secret Service, who believe him to be in possession of a secret divulged to him by the President, and possibly guilty of having had a hand in his death. Another key figure in the book is the tenacious but down on his luck Agent Jack Griffin, who is the centrepiece in a subplot that acts as a sort of counterpoint to the story of the rich and privileged Carter.

I expected to really enjoy this book, and while it is very good it didn't really grab me in the way I had anticipated. Thinking back on it, I can't really find much wrong with it. It's dense and detailed and atmospheric. Carter is a complex and compelling character - tortured and struggling to move forward. All of the surrounding characters are interesting, well defined, and often quirky. There are showdowns, edge-of-your-seat escapes, and fantastical (and apparently mostly real if somewhat embellished) magic performances. The book is written with a straightforward, fast paced style and is often funny and sometimes horrifying (the knife in the hand bit sticks out in particular).

I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to - I would probably recommend it, with the caveat that I myself was quite unmoved by it. Maybe it's because I was in a bad mood because of my computer woes, which pummeled my spirit into submission repeatedly over the last few weeks... Or maybe it just didn't connect with me. In any case, it's a good book and worth a read for those who find the concept of the book interesting.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Return of Tolkien and the Space Tourist

Tolkien Lives!

It seems that the late Professor Tolkien deems us worthy enough to come back from the grave for - he's written a new book posthumously! Ok, not exactly... his son Christopher has edited together his late father's unfinished work 'The Children of Hurin' and will release it next year. I'm not sure if I've got my facts right, but I think most of the Tolkien books out there were published after he gave up the ghost. Death is no longer the obstacle it used to be. As for me, I still haven't touched The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, which have been languishing in my 'To Read' pile for at least half a decade. I may wind up taking a leaf out of Tolkien's book by reading them posthumously...

Space Tourist

As I'm sure everyone is aware, the Soyuz spaceship is now in orbit, and will be docking with the ISS tomorrow. The big news about this mission is, of course, the inclusion of Anousheh Ansari, who is first female space tourist, the first Iranian, and the fourth space tourist overall. You may have heard the name before - she was involved in funding the X-Prize a couple of years back, and is a huge proponent of the space program.

Apparently it's been her dream to go to space, and she has parted with a large amount of money to purchase her ticket from the Russian Space Program. She hopes to inspire others and to draw attention to the importance of space exploration for the future of mankind. I agree with her sentiments, and hope all goes well during her trip. She and a few others are maintaining a blog, which she will be updating from space after Soyuz docks with the ISS! She may well be the first space blogger! In the entries thus far (made while still on Terra, of course), Ms. Ansari explains in a personable manner a bit about herself, her motivations and ideals, and the training programme. It makes for an interesting read for those who are interested.

I myself cannot wait to be a space tourist, but I suspect it'll never become affordable in my lifetime, assuming space tourism takes off at all. At the very least, I hope to live to see a colony on Mars. Space Elevator, you can't come soon enough!

As a brief aside, I find it a bit depressing that the story about a man marrying a goat endured longer than the Ansari story on the BBC website's 'most read' and 'most emailed' sections.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Babylon 5 - Season 2

Another draft entry that has been gathering dust since June.

Babylon 5

Let me quickly complete it by saying... Season 2 was excellent, better than Season 1, and despite my initial reservations I grew to prefer Sheridan to Sinclair. Londo continues to be a lovable bastard (although mostly a bastard), G'kar is now a tragic figure, Garibaldi and Ivanova are... still themselves, which is a good thing. Revelations are made and the stakes continue to be raised, and I can't wait to see Season 3.

Weekend Movie Roundup (June 16-18)

I created a 'marker' draft of this post way back on the 20th of June, and the following three lines are all it contained.
Dragonslayer (1981)
The Untouchables (1987)
The Descent (2005)

And then I stopped blogging for a while - I was a little busy and didn't have time to update, and when I finally found the time I was no longer in the mood for blogging. Fast forward nearly three (!) months to earlier this morning. There I was, twiddling my thumbs when my idle brain suddenly conjured up a thought - 'what about the blog?'. I sign in to Blogger and what do I find? A couple of old drafts sitting around, begging to be completed. Unfortunately, the passage of time has lessened the relevance of the topic that was to be discussed in this post, so I'll be ultra-brief.

Dragonslayer - Surprisingly watchable fantasy flick from the early 80s... probably one of the best of the era, especially when put alongside other dubious 'classics' like The Beastmaster and Red Sonja. The production values hold up well, the acting ain't bad, and the dragon effect looks good even today (for the most part). Look out for Emperor Palpatine in a small role.

De Palma's The Untouchablesis a classic. Costner, Connery, Deniro, and everyone else is top-notch. It may be a bit whimsical and stray from the facts at times, but is still thrilling, funny, and moving. As you may have guessed, I loved it...

And then there's The Descent, a film that's been getting so many rave reviews and which has been called "the scaries movie since Alien" or some such nonsense. It's nowhere near as good as that. It is brutal and scary (mostly by resorting to the 'sudden loud noise' syndrome), but poorly acted and written. Underwhelming.