Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Walking Dead

It’s rare that any form of entertainment makes me cry. Sure, the obvious things do, like uplifting/heart breaking moments in Disney cartoons, but of course, that could apply to any one of us. Finding something that truly resonates with me, something that makes me feel and fear for the characters involved… well, it’s a tough stunt to pull off. Movies and TV shows often take a good punt at it, but their attempts too often come across as deliberate manipulation rather that any kind of earned emotional reaction. But at least they try. The same can so rarely be said about videogames, that it’s hardly worth mentioning the few that have tried. Even the successful examples would look foolish when put beside a show like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and their ilk. The few that saw the potential of gaming as a story telling device knew we’d have to wait for a long time and face many failures before games even approached that level. Then, out of nowhere, ‘The Walking Dead’ arrived.

‘The Walking Dead’ videogame continues the spread of Robert Kirkman’s cultural juggernaut as it (mostly) successfully invades every form of entertainment we know. After the TV show, comic, boardgame and pregnancy tests the next logical step was a videogame. It had no reason to be good, at all. A cash-in would have sold very well, I’m sure. What it is instead, is definitely the most important game of last year and may be the most important game in a decade. The impact it has made and will continue to make will echo through the industry for years. I know! I’m saying it’s good, by the way. Just in case I wasn’t clear.

The game introduces us to a group of characters new to the ‘Walking Dead’ universe, with the player controlling a man called Lee who was just innocently on his way to jail (for MURDER no less) when everything goes to hell. Stumbling from the wreck of a police car, you’re thrust into this grim new world in predictably violent fashion, setting you up for the nightmare ahead. But it’s only a few minutes later, when you meet a young girl called Clementine, that the story really begins. And it’s this story, and this relationship, that truly makes the game something special.

In fact, relationships really are the core of the game. A relationship-em-up, if you will. The characters and world that you soon realise you’ve walked into are stunningly well fleshed out, creating an environment where it feels like anything could happen.  Ironically, and in order to do this right, they’ve had to control and direct the game in quite a tight fashion. Indeed, any criticism comes from the fact that it’s a fairly linear story and that the start and the finish of this story is set in stone. Though what makes it work, is the journey you take to get to that ending and seeing how your decisions influence other characters and events in the story. Lives are put in your hands. Lives that you have only seconds to make decisions about. It’s harrowing, but in the very best sense of the word.

It’s a difficult game to talk about without spoiling it, but if you’re familiar with other ‘Walking Dead’ properties, you’ll probably know what’s in store. Except this time, you’ll be involved and often in some terrible, terrible way. And it’s this- the need to get your hands dirty and make tough decisions that makes the ‘Walking Dead’ rise above not just other games, but so many other books and films that have tried to get an emotional reaction out of you. It constantly makes you second guess your decisions and you’ll realise that, sometimes, you’ve made a dreadful mistake and your only choice is to move on and live with it. And finally, at the end of this traumatic ordeal, you’ll come to a point were all of these decisions brings your journey to it’s natural conclusion and you’ll cry (unless you’re some kind of inhuman monster) and you’ll realise that this is most certainly one of the best games you’ve ever played.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Movie Pitches

So this week, for fun, I've decided to share a few of the movie pitches I'm trying to get funded with you. Feedback is always welcome! This is exactly how I presented them, so you're not only getting an insight into my idea factory but also my pitching style. Enjoy!

‘Biscuits’ a romantic comedy starring Gerard Butler (we hope). Steve ‘Striker’ Stevenson is the manager of a bathroom supplies warehouse with an eye for the ladies WHEN a genie or something appears and turns him into a long haired terrier called ‘Biscuits’ because he kicked a dog once, or something.. Hilarity ensues as Biscuits not only tries to turn himself back into a man, but also pursues a coffee shop waitress with a heart of gold. It’s going to a have a lot of leg humping and scenes of Biscuits looking up ladies dresses so there’ll be plenty of action for the guys too. That way we can target as large a demographic as possible. We also plan to have ribald commentary from Butler throughout, like a ‘Look Who’s Talking Now’ for whatever it is they’re calling this decade. It will also feature Jack Nicklaus (we looked at Nicholson, but he’s priced himself out of the market) as Steve’s crotchety old neighbour. His catchphrase will be ‘Bis-CUITS!’ as he shakes his fist at the camera.

‘High Steaks’ is period gambling drama set in the old west (of the United States of America). George Steaks is a roguish card player, who moves from town to town getting by as he can when and old rival from his past turns up and threatens everything George stands for (gambling).The twist? The entire cast will be made up of ACTUAL cows. Then we’ll just CGI their mouths to make it look like they’re moving. And they say there are no original ideas. I’ve already been talking to a guy who makes cow outfits and he’s knocked out a few gingham dresses, waistcoats and little hats for us already as a trail thing if you need some sort of proof of concept. Though you can take my word for it- it’s looking amazing. The only problem is some of the key scenes in my script require some pretty technical poker skills and I’m not sure even how we’re going to get the cows to hold the cards (glue?). We’ll figure it out though.

And in case you’re not fully sold on it as yet, all the characters are going to have meat based second names a la The Flintstones i.e. Peter Brisket and Barry Rumpsteak. Now you’re in! I can tell! By the way, I’m looking at this as my prestige picture, so don’t be expecting a big cash return. Your kudos return should be through the roof, though. If we don’t get an Oscar nod I’ll be furious. 

If anyone out there wants to get on the money train and fund one of these (and why wouldn't you?), you know where to find me. As you can see from the above picture, I'm also available for any modelling jobs that might come up too. I'm extremely versatile.

Friday, 14 December 2012

A Tuesday


We stopped in our tracks. Unadvisable perhaps, considering we were in the middle of the road. But that ‘hey’ was definitely for us.

Nick and I looked round to see a gray haired gentleman earnestly staring at us while two of his colleagues tumbled out of a taxi. Frasier looked unimpressed. He always was the most sensible one of us. Well, most of the time.

‘What are you doing?’

He asked, all of us more sensibly now standing on the kerb. Looking over at his colleagues we noticed how much younger they were than him. Their excitement, unlike their boss, seemed somewhat more restrained. Their eyes had that ‘What the fuck is he getting us into now?’ quality to them. Something I assume we shared, but seeing it in their eyes was oddly reassuring. They had definitely been here before.

Emboldened, we responded.

‘Not much.’

It seemed like the correct response.

‘You should come with us!’

Now the fear set in. We’d heard about Japanese business men. Perverts, every last one of them. Who knows where we would end up? We looked at each other warily, doing the best we could to discuss the situation in utter silence. Frasier frowned, but as our resident non-drinker, we agreed that his opinion didn’t count. Nick grinned. And that was it.


Two for two on correct responses as it turns out. He looked delighted, putting his arms round Nick and I and shepherding us towards the nearest Karaoke bar. We got inside and to our delight, found that that was all it was.

What followed was a delightful evening of singing and drinking all thanks to our mysterious benefactor. Though his subordinates may have footed the bill for all we know. The important thing here though, is that we didn’t. And free nights out always go down a treat.

Leaving the bar we walked to a restaurant over one of the most famous bridges in Osaka. Young girls in outfits their parents must have frowned upon lingered on both sides. Our friend put his arm round my shoulder and whispered conspiratorially.

‘Over here, the girls are very easy to catch.’

Which was accompanied by a wide reaching arm motion, directing our attention to a group of girls easily young enough to be his daughter. So he WAS a pervert. Thank God. He was in good company.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Menu

Life in Northern Ireland had always been about the food. To me at least, anyway: The fish and chips, the fry-ups, the sweets, the burgers and the vast, vast quantities of bread. It’s what I knew. And although I’d always prided myself on being open to new food types, I was never going to be prepared for what I found in Korea. I had no idea what Korean food even was, honestly. The best thing I could do was to focus on all the Chinese food I had enjoyed and hope it was similar to that. They’re pretty close to each other, right?

You see, I’d only ever been in a handful of Western countries so I had no idea what to expect from any Eastern countries, never mind Korea. It was a place that had only been a name in my head up until this point. So my initial culture shock was fairly pronounced and it took me quite some time to settle. But as challenging as the language and culture was, it was the food, and my need to eat lots of it, that caused the biggest concern. I mean, the place I was staying in didn’t exactly have a lot of English speaking people.

It wasn’t a problem initially as my new boss and other teachers took me out to eat a lot, but I was so overwhelmed by this new world and the food sitting in front of me that I never actually stopped to ask what it was I was eating. Even asking what one of the dishes was called would have been helpful. Ah, the benefit of hindsight.

So, on my first day of actual work, I ventured out to eat by myself. Shouldn’t be too hard, I thought. Of course, the fact that I was in a remote and quiet part of the country hadn’t really occurred to me. At least not as yet. It hit me like a train the instant I sat down though.

I’d chosen one of the corner booths in a place with a bright orange sign that I’d seen a handful of times already. Not just here, but in other parts of the town. A chain restaurant, I suppose.  I’d been brought here once on my first day and it seemed to be cheap and relatively tasty. Though the main reason I was here, and the main attraction, was a pull out menu each customer was handed as they walked through the door. Although it was in Korean, to order you simply had to tick a box and hand it to the waitress. No language skills required. So to my relief, food was a guarantee. The type of food, however, would be almost completely random.

60 items, more or less, greeted me as I stared at the menu. On the plus side, meal types were divided into categories. Well, it would have been a plus had they meant a thing to me either. Food roulette it was then. I figured starting at the top would be my best bet, but all the items in the first category looked suspiciously cheap. Side dishes perhaps? I skipped to the next category and selected the fourth item, picked up the sheet and waved it in the air. One of the waiting staff arrived with a smile on her face, her neat, orange uniform matching the sign outside. She said something to me in Korean. I grinned back wordlessly and thrust the piece of paper towards her, pointing at my choice. Still smiling, she looked at the paper and then yelled some instructions to the kitchen staff in the back.

Then it was time to play the waiting game.

What arrived was actually pretty good though- a mixture of spicy sauce, rice and vegetables which I really enjoyed. Success! But I wasn’t one to rest on my laurels and order the same thing every day. That would never do. I could use this as an opportunity to sample some of the delights of Korean cuisine AND learn the language So, I took a copy of the menu home with me in an attempt to unlock the meanings of the arcane symbols that covered it. Obviously, this translated into it sitting in my wallet indefinitely and coming to the restaurant, and menu, with no new knowledge at all. So with some inevitability, I ended up playing that game of food roulette for the better part of a year.

It was certainly a baptism of fire into the world of Korean food, but happily I ended up discovering and enjoying a lot more than I could have reasonably expected to. Not to say that there weren’t a few unfortunate choices. Ice noodles may be refreshing on a cool day for your average Korean, but wouldn’t have been my first choice. The dish was basically cold noodles in an iced bowl of spicy tomato soup. Which sounded like the sort of ‘minimalist’ cooking of my student days, the big difference being that those meals tended to be hot. Most of the time, at least.

All of this had a big impact on my love of Korean food in general though and within a month of being home, I missed it terribly. But I’ll always remember the first bowl of random food set in front of me and the thrill of expectation at my next random meal. I would still have a hard time identifying half of the things I ate though.

And you know, to this day, people still ask me if I ever ate dog when I was in Korea as it’s still a relatively popular dish over there. How dare they! I love dogs! I find the whole business quite upsetting, really. So when I am asked, I stare people right in the eye and give them the only answer I possible can- ‘Um…. maybe?'

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Diet Schmiet

I long ago swore that I would never go on a diet. Never ever. They seemed ineffective, horrible and a lot of the time for no other reason than to look fashionable or sexy or something. They just seemed so miserable and pointless, like some sort of self-inflicted torture. So in my mind, diets were just big fat waste of time. Apart, of course, from the diets that have medical significance- they're totally cool.

The other big, conflicting factor is that I love food! Seriously. I mean, who doesn't? Though I think I especially do. I often feel that unlike most men, who think with their brains and/or dicks (apparently), my belly does most of my thinking for me. Just this afternoon it made me go into KFC for lunch, the bastard. My brain was very angry afterwards, let me tell you. Even my brain is part of this nefarious scheme to make me fatter though. I just see food as such a wonderful, cultural experience and like to explore somewhere by both seeing locations and trying their exotic foodstuffs. You know, like KFC.

Keeping all this in mind, I have decided to go on a diet (probably). I feel it's the last possible area for me to sell out in and I like to be consistent. And get this- it's for fashion reasons, no less! As my health is, at the very least, satisfactory. However, it's not a desire to get more sexy on your asses that's driving this decision, it's financial. Yes, a few years of eating have made all my winter clothes a little too snug for comfort and cheap bastard that I am, I'd rather diet than have to buy any new ones.

Though I don't now where to start, and this is where I turn to you, my faithful handful of readers. What diets are good? Or should I just exercise more? I really have no idea where to start. So if you, like me, want a healthier, sexier Andy for winter, who looks great in his winter clothes, get writing some comments now. You'll be making the world a better place.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Virtual Killing Fields

Every now and again an article will appear in a video game magazine, website or blog lamenting the number of people each of us has virtually killed in our tenure as pixelated psychopaths and the increasing violence in today's games. It's an effort, I think, to bring some sort of justification to this hobby. To make it look like the vast majority of gaming fans aren't all socially retarded morons with a fixation on killing, which has been brought about by how new gaming still is and its common use as a scapegoat. Which seems odd to to me, considering every other fan base contains as high a number of these socially retarded morons. They rarely feel the need to justify them. In fact, certain hobbies often celebrate it. Not mentioning any names *cough* Football *cough*.

I, on the other hand, just like to look at these as a chance to take stock of how many people I have personally killed in the video game world. It's literally in the millions. Now a large part of that figure was through a nuclear war game called Defcon, which racked up the kill count like the score on a pinball machine (New York 11.2 million dead. Take THAT America!), so that's cheating really, and in all honesty, fairly abstract. The more telling figure is the blood on my hands through more personal means- bullet wounds, grenade blasts and the odd decapitation. It's still in the tens of thousands, distressingly. To you, I mean, not to me. I'd like to round it off to a nice even 100, 000 and then retire, a nice golden AK47 hanging on the wall as a reminder of all those I've mercilessly slaughtered. Also in case they come back as zombies, which is a real and vital occupational hazard these days.

But get this- I'm as normal as an person has the right to call themselves these days. I don't see opportunities for killing sprees when I'm out in the street. In fact, the only real way video games have effected me like that is when I was playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skateboarding too much and could see nothing but amazing grind spots everywhere. Video game violence is cathartic. It helps me relieve my stresses at the end of the day, not make me want to go out and add to them. In fact, I'd say that video games have stopped as many killing sprees as they've started (0). Not that you'd see that as a headline though.

Argh, I feel like I'm banging a drum that's been beaten many times before, when all I wanted to talk about is how much I like shooting people. I like it a lot. I'm in no hurry to stop. Worlds need to be saved and princesses have to be rescued and I'll always need to dump my stresses somewhere. So I'll continue to get my hands bloody and not give it a second thought. Care to join me?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Last Piece of the Puzzle

I'd always been sliding towards being a big fan of boardgames. It was the final, inevitable step of my ascension to full geek, with honours. My whirlwind (boardgame) romance started around 6 months ago and the range and ingenuity of the games that are out there have blown my socks off. In fact, when recently asked by my girlfriend if I had now become a boardgame collector, my sighed 'Yes' spoke volumes. I love 'em.

I was going to start by saying that I've always been drawn to hobbies that sit on the margins a little more than others. But that's not the case. I've always been curious about the hobbies of people whose company I enjoy. If I like them and they like this, I want to know the reason why. It was like this for the boardgames to, in a round about way. I'd become aware of some stores that catered for boardgame fans in Taipei and through this ended up joining a group of foreigners and ne'er-do-well's. It's through them that I've really seen all that there is out there.

I had always loved the few boardgames I had played. Socially, they always felt like one of the most enjoyable things you can do. Combine the right game with a few drinks and you're in for an excellent evening. Since then, like any good medium, I've discovered just how incredibly casual and shockingly hardcore games can get. Some of the rule books could be released as books themselves to be honest. Which is great, if you ask me. I think the very best stuff is always worth putting in a bit of effort for. However, even some of the more casual games can be a stack of fun. I already have a list of games as long as my arm that I want to at least try.

Anyway, in the past few months, I've played as a waitress in a Lovecraftian horror, a giant monster rampaging through Tokyo, a grizzled renegade gunslinger and a general slowly pushing his fleet across the galaxy. Boy, does that sound nerdy when I read it back. But it was all an amazing amount of fun. Basically, play more boardgames you guys. They are great.