Thursday, August 31, 2006

Snakes In Leicester

Not really much to report. Back in Leicester for over a week with not too much excitement to report.

While oop north I visited numerous folks up in Dundee and saw almost everyone. Others were once again too busy all weekend and cancelled on the few days they could do anything on (probably because the days end in "y"). Doubtless they're too busy with important stuff during their holiday season and despite their protests that they wish I was back up here permanently, I think I'd probably see even less of them if I did. Did get to see My Super-Ex and the Lady in the Water, which was good and has earned me a free copy of Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy on DVD, and have a sundae in Vissochi's.

And be hassled by my landlords who in my absence decided to turn my flat into a Bett's showroom by phoning me at 5:30pm to ask if it was ok to show propsective buyers around the next day. After I told them not to let anyone in as I was on holiday for two weeks and didn't want people being shown round until I could get home and tidy up they switched from phoning to sending letters to the flat. Neat. Though this week I've had no such 'visits'.

I've been back and have started preparing for all my lecturing in October- there's so much to read I've started working from home to get away from all the distractions. And playing Oblivion a lot - which isn't really helping matters.

I also finally got to see the amazing Snakes on a Plane - awesome B-Movie action. Samuel L. Jackson seemed to be having fun - but I think these other guys could've been in it as well:-

Apparently there's a film called Snakes on a Train - a straight to DVD outfit. For shame Hollywood!

Anyway back to work - the washing machine just made a loud popping sound and cut off its electricity in mid-wash. Not good.

Monday, August 28, 2006

We Get Rhapsodic Signal

If you were paying attention you'll appreciate this...

Monday, August 21, 2006

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

"All Your Base Are Belong To Us" is an internet phenomenon based on the game Zero Wing, a Japanese game console translated into English by a primitive form of Altavista's Babblefish. The introduction with its great dialog shows this perfectly:-

and has inspired numerous spoofs:-

Ha ha ha ha!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Stuff I Like: Ultima

Everybody's heard of Ultima Online no doubt - the first big massive multiplayer online rpg (or MMORPG). However Ultima is used as little more than a brand name these days, the original series of games (which are for the most part excellent) are often eclipsed by the popularity of the online cash cow.

Ultima began in the days when people wrote computer games in their bedrooms and sold them via mailorder on those things they call cassettes. Richard Garriott, an Austin-based roleplayer and computer geek with the handle "Lord British" created a Dungeons and Dragons-type game for his home computer and it was called... Akalabeth. This wasn't more than a tiled adventure game where you played a stick figure, moved around the map, killed monsters and explored dungeons but was pretty sophisticated in the 1970s - particuarly the 3D dungeon bashing.

Ultima IV introduced the idea of virtues - a code of ethics that you were encouraged to follow if you wanted to win the game. This was partly in response to criticisms that the original 3 games encouraged you to be a homicidal maniac in order to complete the games, but also because the last 3 games were all about killing some big nasty.

You, a traveller in the newly formed lands of Britannia, summoned from the world of Earth by Lord British, had to excel in all 8 virtues, complete a number of quests to become the Avatar, the paragon of virtue and find the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom, a book of er... wisdom which would allow you to essentially become a spiritual leader to the people of Britannia.

Ultima IV was the first real "plot" the series had beyond killing stuff, and you had to interact with townsfolk rather than rob them blind to solve the quests. It also finally created a Narniaesque connection to Britannia - you were meant to be yourself transported to the magic realm of Britannia, which I always found rather neat. You also had to gain companions native to Britannia - there was one for each virtue. The interaction was very primitive but a lot of important characters were introduced. In particular Iolo the Bard, a handy shot with the crossbow, Dupre - who would eventually be detailed as a paladin with a love for ale and women and Shamino - a ranger and spiritualist would become the "core three" companions, whilst the other five would feature in every other Britannia based Ultima, though they wouldn't always join you.

Ultima V was set a few months later after you completed your quest and returned to Earth. Time on Earth runs differently to Britannia so a few months on Earth amounted to several years on Britannia.

Ultima V explored the themes of religious fundamentalism and legislating morality. Lord British had gone missing, a new ruler, Lord Blackthorn assumed power and began issuing laws that made following the virtues compulsory (for example the Law of Honesty, if you lie you lose your tongue). 3 dark creatures that opposed the virtues, the Shadowlords, were roaming Britannia, you and your companions were declared outlaws. It was a bad time to be the Avatar, dude, and your mission is to return to Britannia, destroy the Shadowlords and find Lord British.

The original game was another tile based game with better graphics, more sophisticated conversations and a schedule system (e.g. people go off for lunch at noon, sleep all night etc.) but it was more recently remade using the Dungeon Siege engine, and is available here. Other than infinitely better dialog, full colour portraits for every character and a 3D engine that is infinitely less tiresome than the original tile game this game also now boasts a feature that those 60 Degrees North might appreciate - the ability to play as a complete git and rather than rescuing Lord British you can make him disappear permanently, becoming a thrall to the Shadowlords and Blackthorn and ruling Britannia with an iron fist. Not a good ending, trust me.

Ultima VI was the first "real" Ultima for me - still tile based, but sufficiently polished that it is still highly playable. It involved an alien race, known as the Gargoyles, who were invading Britannia and nearly sacrificed you on an altar with a sharp pointy dagger... you get the point? However it turns out the gargoyles aren't evil, just justifiably pissed off, and you have broker peace between them and the similarly understandably peeved off Britannians.

In Ultima VI conversations were very detailed with the denizens of Britannia, there are oodles of sidequests and a massive world to explore.

Ultima VII was the best of the series. It began the last trilogy in a trilogy of trilogies.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Stuff I Like: Twin Peaks

Damn fine television and possibly my favorite TV show ever. It's what Lost aspires to be in, a more mainstream way. It's famous for the following surreal sequence, which was tacked on to the original pilot and has been lampooned in the Simpsons and beyond:-

It starts out as a murder mystery, where local homecoming queen Laura Palmer is murdered. The FBI is brought in, in the form of Special Agent Dale Cooper, a perky dictaphone wielding, cherry pie scrumming law enforcer who is doubtlessly the coolest TV character ever and guy-on-tv-I'd-most-want-to-be-in-real-life.

Dale Cooper has some odd methods of solving crimes, some of which I'm not sure are in the FBI handbook...

Eventually people got a little fed up waiting for the killer to be revealed:-

and once it was revealed the series got a little more surreal and a lot more directionless. But it was never dull.

The series finale was, for me, possibly one of the greatest ever season finales. Directed by Lynch (who reportedly threw away the script and made it all up) it ends on the worst (i.e. good) ever season cliffhanger - he didn't even bother to resolve any plot threads despite having known this was the last season for several episodes. I really wish they had made a third season as it would have been truly awesome to follow up on that finale, where Cooper descends into the Black Lodge and faces the evil that has plagued Twin Peaks.

Lynch did however intend to finish the show in a series of movies but unfortunately the movie Fire Walk With Me was sufficiently confounding and impenetrable that it bombed at the box office. David Lynch filmed it his way, even without the involvement of his other co-creator, and without any of the humour and cheerfulness that made the series so great. It's like when Grant and Naylor split up over Red Dwarf, it became apparent which one was the sci-fi guy and which one was the comedy guy as Red Dwarf became more space opera than funny.

FWWM had about 5 minutes of Dale Cooper in total, relegating the hero to a mere cameo role, not because of the story's prequel status but because Kyle Maclachlan was afraid of typecasting. A suspiciously similar character was created, causing continuity headaches as he investigated the earlier crimes the series implied Cooper had looked into. However as we know Dave is never one to compromise on his artistic vision *ahem*:-

Lesson #1: Finish your story before you do the prequel.

There are always rumours of a continuation of some sort, but with 16 years and counting I think it's more a case of wishful thinking on my part. However when Season 2 is released on DVD I shall get round to buying both seasons of my all-time favourite show. Season 1 was released 3 years or so ago.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Home on the Fringe

When last we left our hero he left Leicester a day late and drove himself and parent back to the sanity of Dundee, Scotland, making very good time and convincing said parent his 8 hour route was much better than the 11 hour one they had used in previous times.

After spending the week not really doing much other than mooching around, watching Hornblower, drinking at the local and generally not achieving much I went to the Edinburgh Fringe, which was fun. Last year I was irked when no sooner had I moved to Leicester than Serenity had its world premiere in the Edinburgh Festival and Mirrormask was also shown. This year there wasn't anything quite so "you must see me!" but Steve and I took in a couple of shows.

The first of these was Alice Through the Lookinglass in the suitably "ghetto" Bedlam Theatre. This was actually pretty good, with a young Alice and proved to be a suitably artsy production - I forgot how damn surreal the story was.

Back to the Futon was suitable fodder for the inner geek that I struggle to keep so well hidden. A stand-up comedy show with a scarily effective Christopher Lloyd look-alike and a funny comedian who may have made one too many Parkinson's jokes. We were slightly late in making it to the even more ghettoesque venue aptly named the Smirnoff Underbelly so we missed out on the raffle for the free ride in the Delorean.

Add in a smattering of Swedish magicians, acrobats and mime artist, a pizza buffet and London-expensive beer on the Royal Mile and it was an all round good day. Pictures may follow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Flat V1.1 Patch Available!

My dad's been up visiting and so far I've introduced him to the Lord Keeper of the Seal and the Dry Dock for dinner and lunch last night respectively. Between us we've put up a bathroom cabinet and bookshelf and are going to start on some shelving at some point tonight. Already my storage capacity has tripled in the bathroom and we're also replacing some of the wonky fixtures that were already put into the flat by a monkey.

More father and son bonding to come, including the road trip home. Yippee...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Chad Vader Episode 2

No clones, but it is good. If you've not seen Episode 1, it's here...