Safety of the Realm – Prologue

They had stopped beating him some hours ago leaving him to lie on the slick slippery surface of the cell bench, awash in his own fluids. They finally let him sleep. How long? He wasn’t sure. What little light made it past his swollen eyes told him nothing of the time of day. More time passed and his gaolers dragged him up and out of the room. They hosed him down, there was basic medical treatment. He drifted in and out. They dressed him at some point. Left him to sleep a little more. The voice inside remained silent.

“You’re a resilient creature,” the translation block on the table crackled to life, startling him awake. “I said you are a resilient creature. Can it hear my speech, query. Give it a shake. No I don’t want to touch it myself.”
“I can hear you,” he said.
“Are you hungry, query. Would you like to join us in the feast, query.”
He couldn’t open his left eye properly. His right took in the room. Ornate luxury. Paintings, tapestries. Sparkling silver and gold tableware hurt his eyes. Focus came and went.
The feast. The feast.
It was sat at the end of the table, a couple of yards away. Its fingers were thick with grease from the meal. Before him a servant laid a fresh silver platter. The steam did not hide the dish – a human infant, probably two years old, roasted. It had been dressed in primary coloured clothes after cooking as a garnish. Boy’s clothes. Nausea rising.
The voice inside was still silent.

“You are a resilient creature. But not very intelligent,” it said. It began feasting. He closed his good eye. He wished he could close his ears. “You have much control over your frame. Control over elements such primitives can understand.”
It paused to feast some more.
“Behold your problem, creature. Your gambling face is well formed. Yet I smell you. I smell fear. I smell your revolting innards. I also smell relief. Why, query.”
He said nothing.
“My feast revolts you. But my feast provokes relief.”
It ate some more.
“Why would you be relieved I was eating this particular creature, query. I will tell you why this is. No. Pause. Group-officer, find this one’s spawn. Treat it with kindness, for now.”
It threw a piece of meat at him.
“This moment, you will give me what I want.”
Without the translator now, It spoke in gargled, deep, but intelligible English.
“Give us that which we desire. Or. I. Will. Force. Feed. You. The. Still. Living. Flesh. Of. Your. Own. Child.”
The other voice inside his head screamed.

My Rambling Thoughts on Gamersgate

Videogames are art. Much of the time they are pretty stupid shitty art – with dialogue and plotting that is just plain embarrassing. But they are art none the less. What sets art apart from many other human endeavours is the manner in which it is discussed. I would argue that good art requires good criticism. If we want good games then the level of discourse surrounding them needs to be of a high calibre.

I worry less about the quality of games writing than I do about the quality of games. I think writing about games is at its best right now. Yes I know there are some crappy reviewers, I get that. But there is so much great writing on the subject of games that elevate it from an embarrassing pastime to an art form worthy of being discussed alongside other media. One of those writers is Anita Sarkeesian. Anita is a gamer, a feminist, a writer and someone who is playing a part in raising the discussion of games to a level above mere “my console is better than yours” nonsense.

Sarkeesian is clearly someone who enjoys games, understands them very well and wants to make them much better than they are. The games business is lucky to have this kind of discourse surrounding it. The discussion surrounding sexism within games is a vital and positive one. The discussion benefits women, women who play games, men and men who play games. It’s a happy all inclusive venn diagram of gaming goodness.

The AAA publishers have been happily feeding gamers lazy shit. From Ubisoft’s cookie-cutter open world blandness to the outright misanthropy of Activision’s later Call of Duty titles. Games could and should be so much better. Even the lauded ones, even the award winning ones, often feature writing that I’d be embarrassed showing to friends who don’t play games or family members. I want better games – where I’m not treated like an idiot willing to lap up any old rubbish.

I’ve been playing games for 35 years. I feel things have got worse. There was a time in the 90s where game stores would be full of wonderfully complex and interesting games, games that shipped with fascinating manuals and other reading material. That’s not to say it was a utopia – we still had Night Trap and the like. But the general feeling was that gaming – at least away from consoles – was still a pursuit of the intelligent, and let’s be honest, the nerd. And so games were written from the assumption that the consumer was intelligent and at the very least was capable of reading comprehension.

No such assumption exists today. The mainstream AAA games factories assume one thing – that you are too stupid to enjoy intelligent, thoughtful gaming. Everything is signposted, every button press guided on screen – you are merely a monkey in an experiment pressing the buttons that pop up on screen. It’s pretty insulting isn’t it, that you are treated with so little respect? That even in the highest budget games very little thought is put into the quality of the actual writing while millions is spent on developing some new deferred lighting renderer. Don’t you feel hard done by? I feel insulted, so should you.

If you are male you’re lucky that this is the worst you feel. It treats you like a gibbering moron, but that’s okay, no real harm done. However for females, the depiction of your gender is at best insulting, at worst dangerous. I really don’t need to argue this. It’s a plain fact. If you want examples, well Anita Sarkeesian has plenty for you, go watch her videos.

The games industry thinks we are stupid. That it can continue to make AAA games of intellectual mediocrity. Some such as Anita Sarkeesian have stood up and said “hey, stop treating us like dirt.” And that’s great for all gamers. But how have many gamers reacted? With violence. Violence. Can you believe that? A threat to rape someone is an act of violence. A threat to murder someone is an act of violence. It is hateful, it is stupid. It makes me weep for the state of the world.

And it makes no sense.
Faceless Corporation X makes a shitty game that treats people like idiots and violence against women as unimportant. Gamers A and B play the game.
Gamer A says “hey this game is shitty, and it says that as A I am worthless. Faceless Corporation X should make better games.”
Now I’d expect gamer B to say “Yes, we really deserve better games from Faceless Corporation X.”
Instead gamer B says to A, “Shut up A, or I’ll rape you, I know where you live.”
Meanwhile Faceless Corporation X smiles and counts its money.

The current Gamersgate fiasco is two worlds colliding. We have the world of the intelligent, the academic, trying to discuss important issues where the interlocutor is a dribbling baboon. The thing that is most clear from the myriad stupid comments and forum posts I’ve read on this subject is that almost all those opposing Sarkeesian’s criticism of modern game design is that they did not understand her arguments. The number of posts I’ve seen that say “But Hitman isn’t about murdering dancers…” Yes we know. Sarkeesian knows. We all know. That wasn’t her point. Again and again I’ve read idiotic tweets and posts that seem incapable of grasping such a simple concept. In some ways that’s more depressing than the threats of violence and anger.

But it isn’t, is it? People being threatened with rape and murder because they want an intelligent debate about an artform is far from okay. It’s really a long starship flight away from being okay. Even if you disagree with Sarkeesian, if you can’t defend her right to make those points, then you’ve lost the argument. I don’t see this as women vs gamers, feminists vs gamers, social justice warriors vs gamers or any other of those ridiculous concepts. No this is about rational decent human beings versus hate, injustice and violence.

If you are on the other side, wish pain and suffering against Sarkeesian and similar critics – then what has made you this way? Why are you so unhappy? Why do you hate women so much? Even those of you who simply don’t see how women are treated by games, why does this subject make you so angry? What do you think is going to happen? That games get banned? Who is talking about that, no one as far as I can see. How have so many boys got this way? Could it be the aggression in modern pornography – or is this merely another symptom of this anger rather than a cause? I don’t know. It’s clearly a bigger issue than I can fully get my head round.

The whole sorry mess reminds me of Scott Weitzenhoffer’s famous quote regarding debating evolution with creationists.

“Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”

Boys, sort yourselves out.

Camera Gear Forums & Obsession With Sharpness.

It is mad how much stock people put in sharpness. On camera gear forums it seems to be the aim for many people – they’ll post what they think is an amazing shot – because it is sharp, not because of the composition, light, subject etc. People rate lenses and cameras on how sharp they are as the primary factor. I think it’s all bonkers.

Back when I used to have a little film camera and all my prints were 6×4 I don’t remember anyone talking about sharpness. Being in focus yes, but nothing more. But now folks can look at 100% images on large monitors they become obsessed with the pixel sharpness, throwing away images that would make pretty large prints before sharpness was an issue – even if sharpness actually is one.

But that’s gear forums for you. Go somewhere more about the end product and there’s less focus (no pun intended) on sharpness. Go to places that are about the art of photography – sharpness much less of a thing there.

Enthusiast forums go mad for sharpness. And good gear gets ignored despite many good qualities merely because its sharpness isn’t the main attribute. Meanwhile I see plenty of professional work in advertising, magazines and online that isn’t razor sharp and looks looks amazing. Other factors being more important to those pros.

I see it as a similar thing to the PC overclocking community. People build PCs to compete to achieve high overclocks, not because they will play games very well, but just for pure effort of building a machine they can clock so quickly. They have fun, it’s fine, but a PC much slower will do for any real world jobs.

Similarly folks build dragsters for the same reason. They want to reach extreme horsepower and speed over a quarter mile. These cars have not much other use, they aren’t even good racing cars, except for the short straight sprint of a drag strip. But they are competing to create massively overpowered vehicles for the sake of it.

And on gear forums people will buy gear and compete for the very sharpest of images. And this is totally okay as long as you realise that it’s a competition about sharpness and not photography. If people want to compete in that way then let them – they are having fun. But it’s got very little to do with art. And just like those dragsters and overclocked PCs, people look for a level of sharpness that is way beyond what most people need for practice everyday use.

Camera gear forums the camera equivalent of those hobbies. And that is totally okay. People compete, get very obsessed, and argue about gear. And the currency by which they measure isn’t horsepower or MHz, but sharpness. That’s how the game there is played.

Almost all digital cameras on the market today will give you a sharp enough image in a 6×4 print (and much larger really) that sharpness is just not an issue. People go looking for flaws and on a 24″ monitor at 100% they’ll always find them.

I used to be there too. But now every day and in every way, I’m getting better and better.

Happy Birthday Will

Our youngest is five today. He’s been insanely excited about his birthday for months now and I’ve been concerned it couldn’t live up to his expectations. But his expectations aren’t anything other than the excitement of a day all about him – and he’s been giddy with joy all morning before heading to school.

It has been an interesting year for Will and us as it is his first year at school. He’s a bright, funny and outgoing boy but he’s also in many ways not a million miles away from the toddler he was. And when starting school I was nervous about his academic prospects – not because of any doubts regarding his abilities – but merely because he’s nearly a year younger than others in the reception class. After all, just three months before starting school he’d still been three.

I needn’t have worried. While he may be small and sometimes too trusting of his friends the one thing that hasn’t been a problem this year has been learning at school. He is a boy that’s always loved finding out new things – especially about dinosaurs, Star Wars and volcanoes. He has taken to learning to read with real enthusiasm and has really impressed us with his progress. We needn’t have worried – his reading ability at the end of his first year of school is as good as any in his school year.

I wanted to post today to mark the date, a date so special for our little boy. And it’s special to us too because it celebrates this bonkers bundle of cuteness and energy that is our baby boy. The little monkey has lit up my life. Happy Birthday William.

Driveclub, Forza Horizon 2 & Magic Computer Beans

This week’s announcement of Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One has got videogamers on many forums spouting the same old rubbish we’ve heard time and again about frame rates. The nonsense intensified earlier today as Playground Games revealed Horizon 2 would run at 1080p30.

Come on guys, most of you are smarter than playing out this silly 60 vs 30 argument all over again. Playground Games has chosen to make this game 30fps, rather than 60fps. Why? Because it’s a good compromise for this kind of sim-lite open world action. You can put lots of silicon horsepower into making the game beautiful.

Could it be 60fps? Of course it could.

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