Category Archives: Games

Mask

The Drowned Man

A few weekends ago, my brother surprised me with a trip to London and two tickets to a mysterious event, which turned out to be entry to a ‘theatrical adventure’ called The Drowned Man.

Set in an abandoned former post office building in Paddington, the doors are opened a few minutes before the show and, with no ceremony, people are ushered through a door into a darkened corridor, which is an early taste of what is to follow. With lights dimmed to the point of near total darkness, a black-clad member of staff hands out grey masks to all attendees whilst a rumbling recording requests that these masks are worn at all times and that there is no talking – before recommending that people leave their friends and loved ones behind in order to take full advantage of the experience ahead.

A costumed actor, set somewhere between 50s Hollywood starlet and burlesque performer, then appears and starts to usher a group of twenty five or so of us into a lift, where she begins to reel off a vague introduction to a wider narrative, before half the group is invited to leave one floor and the remainder held back to be let out at another.

Our group was let out into a set made up as the immediate outskirts of a 1950s film studio, Temple Studios, with the warning that ‘unsavoury characters roam nearby’. The lights remain down and all of a sudden, the brooding, heavy-set sound track begins to make its presence felt, adding to the bubbling sense of atmosphere.

Characters start to appear from around various sections of the set and the crowd starts to fragment, moving in different directions, some following specific characters and others opening doors and exploring parts of the set. At this point, I simply had no idea what was going on.

Over the course of the next three hours I took turns in following specific cast members and moving between the five floors of the building to explore the set – which ranged from nuclear waste lands, to human sacrificial settings, along with trailer parks, a church, a bar.

Apparently, each of the 25 characters has a narrative arc – a loop – which interweaves with the arcs of others to create the plot. The point of the show is that the standpoint of each attendee will deliver an unique experience within the context of several interlocking stories. I saw one plot twice in the time (from two vantage points), whereas my brother saw several murder scenes, a clown who seemed to have little to do with any narrative and an orgy, none of which I managed.

Around two hours in, doors opened on one floor to a bar, and we were then invited to take masks off if we wished to – although some of the characters remained. By a miracle, the two of us both arrived there within minutes of each other, had a quick drink and tried to figure out what was going on.

After half an hour, we wandered back out to see if it was possible to cover some of the loops that had been missed but fairly quickly, some cast members grabbed people from the audience by the hand and led them and us to a central point, to witness a murder scene, before seeing the cast all come together on a wide stage to perform a dance that could have come from Stomp, and finally, various key characters rounded out their respective story-arcs at opposing ends of the stage.

Overall, I would say that The Drowned Man was an extraordinary, unforgettable experience. At the time, it was deeply frustrating – and although I’ve read up on it considerably since attending and now know a little more – I would say that the lack of clear narrative makes it extremely difficult for the audience to engage . However, the pure and raw theatrical experience of being a voyeur to the point of participation – I was pushed, pulled and grabbed on various occasions by the performers – allows the show to transcend the need for audience understanding and, I imagine, is the reason why so many of the audience turn up again and again to eke out more from the experience whilst also developing a feeling of clarity.

Clearly it’s not for everyone. Rather than horrific, the show is laden with menace – a memorable moment for me was standing amidst a row of scarecrow figurines whilst watching some sort of witchdoctor perform a rite, only to turn and find one of the scarecrows standing and walking – but, the feeling of potential terror is omnipresent.

Of the many reviews, this is my favourite. The Guardian, Telegraph and Metro all make similar points, but interestingly, despite the similarity of perspective, the Guardian gives it 3/5 whilst the Telegraph is 5/5 (Metro splits the difference), which serves how challenging it is to judge something so abstract.

My enduring memory is that it was an experience akin to walking around a contemporary ‘sandbox’ video game, such as Rage, where you can interact with the props and characters rather than simply walk a predefined path. Personally I don’t think I’d be heading back to see this one again, even if I could get a ticket (it’s now sold out until the end of the London run) – but I’ll definitely be in line to see what Punchdrunk does next.

The Drowned Man

metal-gear-solid

A Huge Gaming Letdown

I picked up the Metal Gear Solid HD collection at the weekend, thinking it looked like a great blast from the past and have just had my first bash at it. Of the three games in the package, I was reliably informed that Metal Gear 3; Snake Eater was the first one to go for but, having spent an hour on it this evening, I’m afraid to say (and quite surprised by the fact) that I absolutely hate it.

Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the games that I’ve played in the last year – Deus Ex, Modern Warfare 2 & 3, Black Ops, Assassin’s Creed etc – but I think the controls are awful, the camera is jerky and very difficult to read and the cut scenes way too long. It took 25 minutes of ‘story’ before the game even begins. Effectively, this cut down the time that I had to play something by nearly half.

I did wonder whether it was just me, so I’ve had a look at Amazon and am amazed to see that the reviews are all 4 and 5 stars. Obviously I’m missing something here as I know that people are treat the franchise with a huge amount of respect.

I have written here before about how much the games industry has evolved over the last decade – since the tail end of my last real affair with gaming. To me, there is a huge difference between the sophistication of how a title like MW2 strikes a balance between gameplay and narrative, versus the way this title treats story as much more important than the gaming experience (or indeed the gamer).

If only the development team had spent a bit more time on sorting out the control system and camera angle management and less about the definition of pixels in the port and the inane characterisation.

All things considered, I think that’s one of the most disappointing first 60 minutes I’ve ever had on a game.

More Comic Recommendations Required

So, the first hint of snow has started to fall and sure enough, planes, trains and automobiles in the UK have decided to stop functioning. Consequently it looks like this weekend might comprise a fair amount of reading.

I’ve just finished book 7 of The Walking Dead and, at a friend’s recommendation – see below- I’ve bought the first books of Y, The Last Man & Chew to take a look at next.

I’m also going to have a crack at 100 Bullets, The Unwritten, Locke & Key and bash on with the Sandman when I get a few minutes (it’s taking me forever to finish the Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels – although just starting book six, the penultimate one, now).

So, I’m wide open to decent recommendations.

Failing that, I may have to finally unwrap Skate 3, Battlefield and Deus Ex on the Xbox this weekend.

Right, back to thinning out my inbox…

Console Agoraphobia

As a life long gamer, I have previously confessed to having resigned myself to the fact that a) I just don’t have time any more and b) outdoor pursuits and/or more cerebral indoor are more appropriate pursuits for what little time that I do have outside work.

However, events have taken an unexpected turn.

We recently celebrated Punch’s 8th birthday, which coincided with an expansion that involved knocking through into next door and, in the process, we decided to keep aside one area of the new space (which has become known as ‘the creche’) for a wall mounted telly, some beanbags and a console, for some light entertainment and banter in between manic bursts of activity. Oh and we’ve gone for a retro Asteroids motif, obviously.

All very lovely. However, we bought a console and I had it at home for a few days before the grand unveiling/office party, so as to keep it under wraps until we were ready. And, in the process, I had a couple of quick goes on the odd game which, having not really played much since second generation consoles and the likes of the Dreamcast, I couldn’t but notice how much of a huge leap forward it was in terms of the overall experience.

On the obvious front, there’s the motion control aspect. Not only does that mean that the console is no longer just for those who want to sit and shoot zombies until the early hours – but it’s now (apparently) a legitimate exercise tool, dance class tutor and all around family entertainment device. Clearly I’ve not been living in a cave for the last ten years and, having myself worked in the gaming industry on several occasions, was well aware of what the latest generation did – but what was surprising was the was that gaming really has genuinely taken a huge new step in terms of embracing a far, far wider demographic than it did just a few years ago.

So, the upshot of all of this was that I ended up buying a second console, having been strongly advised by a friend that moving the latest machines from their natural habitat more than once or twice in their lifetime was nowadays akin to shaking a baby over a six floor balcony in terms of the risk factor (and to think, I used to take the Megadrive all over the place in order to play Sensible Soccer and Golden Axe at various mates’ houses – that thing was indestructible).

I confess that I’m still up for the fighty/shooty games personally, probably because of my gaming heritage. But, having spent a few housebound hours with my eldest daughter this evening after her sister fell asleep earlier than expected, we spent a super fun 60 minutes with her wiping the floor with me at bowling, followed by me beating her (just – it was sketchy) at track and field. I’m currently too scared to take her on at Zumba.

And, having done that, we then read together for half an hour before bedtime.

Time remains a huge consideration for me – and specifically how I prioritise what I do with what I have ‘spare’. Ironically (and, perhaps predictably), since having bought the second machine about ten days ago I haven’t turned it on once until this evening, simply because I’ve been working around the clock and/or with my family every other waking moment – which is how it should be. But having had a few conversations about this over the last month or so with various people in a similar situation and of a similar age, I’m reliably informed that ‘an hour or so a week’ is not uncommon – which seems absolutely fine to me.

Interestingly, I write this on the eve of the launch of a major new social game in Facebook. The next step for the industry surely has to be to move away from the superficial social games that have proven so popular and introduce some of the gameplay factors that hook in the gaming community? More on that to follow.

**UPDATE – It’s called MonsterMind, and launches today on Facebook**

Right, kids are asleep, I’m home alone – I might sneak a quick game in…

The One Day Wonder Of Pocket God

I’ve just discovered Pocket God, a 99c/59p app for the iphone which is currently in it’s 28th iteration since launch a year or so back. Clearly I’m not alone in loving this app – it has a huge following online.

For a 35 year old I’ve got a fairly extensive gaming history – albeit one that’s now a good few years out of date. From my Dad’s former employer in the early 80s (Dragon Computers, with the Atari-esque solid-state cartridges and the BBC-B form factor), through the obvious Spectrum/Sega/Nintendo/PlayStation stages etc. There was the odd hiccough – notably the quickly defunct Game Gear, the Dreamcast and a machine that is now so fogged in my memory that I can’t even recall it’s name – although it was one of the first to have a built in (!) cd-drive and was consequently a hilariously/notoriously ‘charismatic’ piece of kit. Also, I did work for PlayStation for a while, launching Tekken 3 for the console first time around.

I’m pretty sure that I documented it here previously but a few years back Emma and I had a week long discussion regarding the merits of me buying a latest-gen console – either an Xbox or PS3 in all probability. The upshot was that we decided instead to buy bikes for ourselves and the family which seemed to signal the end of Daddy’s videogaming (and possibly the late onset of adulthood). To be honest, I have had that little time for the last couple of years that I didn’t fight particularly hard and Em’s conviction that kids should be out bouncing on a trampoline, playing a game or indeed riding a bike seems pretty reasonable to me – so, that’s where it lay for about two years.

However, with the availability of apps, I’ve recently dabbled in one or two games in the odd spare moment – particularly old favourites such as Doom and a Shrek-branded version of Mario Kart, the game that single-handedly saw myself and my housemates through many a late night during the University years.

I’ve never been attracted to either wargames or simulators – so the concept of Pocket God is completely new to me. At first, I couldn’t see the point but then, after playing with it for a while, it becomes weirdly absorbing. The premise is that the player acts out the role of a god character for a micro-tribe of island-bound pygmies. Effectively the player has two options, mischievous ways to abuse the islanders and the odd way to show a degree of benevolence. The emphasis is squarely on the former which is both amusing and slightly disconcerting.

I have been struggling to understand how games which usually retail for circa £30 – £50 (a fact which I could never quite reconcile as a gamer) can be made available via such small payments – but I think Pocket God has the answer: whilst it was really absorbing for a day, thereafter it seemed like there was little else to do. Until Chapter 29, which I’m sure will provide another short burst of entertainment.

Nevertheless, I’d recommend Pocket God to anyone that’s open minded and has a slight interest in gaming. What else can you buy for 59p these days?

New Look, New Home

So, a few weeks ago I moved this blog from it’s former home to this new location, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the software I was using, from a site called ‘edublogs’ was proving extremely painful to use despite being based on WordPress, resisting updates on a seemingly arbitrary basis. Secondly I also wanted this to be more personal and less a blog about Punch (we have one of those already – here), which takes up most every waking moment outside family life anyway. Hence, this blog’s new name – Out of Office Messages.

Much of what I had written previously is actually still relevant, so I’ve imported the content here – but really, this is more about my personal point of view and perspective which, increasingly, as Punch is now growing (we’re on the point of appointing two more people, taking us to ten) is happily just one facet of the whole picture during the working day.

I’ve also changed the look and feel a couple of times in recent weeks and have finally settled on this layout. Whilst the ability to choose templates on wordpress is undoubtedly fun and designed to ensure that there’s something for everyone, I’ve found that most of the templates feel very old very quickly – and in some cases even quite amateurish – the blog equivalent of clipart. So, the simplicity of this particular layout suits me perfectly.

I have wrestled a little with the extent to which I make this about my interests – which has made me reflect on what my interests actually are. As anyone that knows me personally will, I’m sure, testify, I’m very fortunate in that I’m hugely passionate about my working life. So, whilst it is clearly work related, it’s fair to say that one of my interests is technology and moreover, at present, how technology is effecting sociological change – with innovative web applications breeding new means of personal interaction, for example.

Similarly, it’s interesting to me that reputation management is becoming ever-more relevant, with the current shift towards personal reputation management through web 2.0 and the trend for execs constantly having an eye towards their next opportunity. I suspect this is likely to crop up fairly regularly.

I love the fact that this post may be read by no-one or hundreds+, based on a number of factors, not least merit – but also context/distribution. As per my recent post referencing a couple of bloggers that apparently hadn’t grasped that their entry may in some way have a detrimental effect on their careers, it’s hugely interesting to me that the traditional ‘rules’ of PR still very much apply here – it’s just that the distribution landscape is dramatically different.

Finally, on this, I’m also hugely interested by the prospect of how ‘PR2.0′ can be integrated with (note, not a substitute for) traditional PR techniques, meaning that all reputation campaigns can benefit from a coordinated approach to search engine optimisation, social media and bloggers/blogging, for example.

So, on a different note entirely, outside work my life is really almost entirely devoted to three girls – my wife and two daughters. We’ve had an extended period of intensity at work, dating back to September ’07 when we our first employee joined us to work alongside myself, meaning that I rarely have too much time for anything else.

With a set of golf clubs in the garage now gathering dust having not been used since the birth of my daughter 4+ years ago, I think that can safely be discounted as a likely regular subject. However, as a season ticket holder at Leicester Tigers (having just bought two more for my two daughters for next year) I try to go as often as possible – although that has meant about five times a year for the past two seasons, which is criminal really.

Finally, the last subject which is likely to crop up regularly is my love of the water. Again, swimming has suffered in the last 18 months but it’s something that I do love with a passion. Moreover, I try to get a surf at least a couple of times a year – which dates back to when I was first taken into the sea with my Dad and his board when I was about four.

So, that’s a wrap as far as I’m concerned. My main issue with blogs is that they are frequently too self absorbed so my aim is to always avoid that – but I did want to somehow mark what feels like a significant shift, if only in terms of intentions as opposed to output.