Tuesday 30 September 2014

Flavours of the Month: September 2014...

Jaw dropping WW2 television drama, neo-giallo style, transgressive fiction, surgery, and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag have been some of this month's flavours.

Click "READ MORE" below for the looks, sounds, vibes & flavours of my September 2014...


The Pacific - the first time I watched this I was a little disappointed that it didn't live up to Band of Brothers, but a second viewing on its own terms has brought its successes into the light for me. The main issue with this mini series was, unlike Band of Brothers, it didn't have a narrative that was structured in a way that suited a traditional narrative. Naturally with a historical piece such as this you need to stay true to the events (and, indeed, the stomach churning horror that sets it apart from BoB), however there's no single character who sticks with viewers throughout every single episode. Different lead characters come and go at different points during the 10 episodes, so the viewer is left a little uneasy on their feet. Your POV, your proxy, shifts a numerous points.

It also has to be said that some of the side characters could have been better defined - you occasionally struggle to tell certain people apart who aren't in lead roles. The general pacing was also a little tricky - BoB had a clear path and a consistent momentum, whereas The Pacific tends to duck and weave, peak and trough, switch back and forth. On the plus side though the scale is impressive, and the attention to the psychological turmoil experienced by the soldiers gives this mini series an extra sense of depth and tragedy that was touched on much more lightly in Band of Brothers. All said and done - definitely better the second time around and judged on its own terms, rather than in comparison to its predecessor. Excellent television drama.

Robot Chicken Season 6

- specifically The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, and Yellow.


Marc Maron - various Nerdist and WTF podcast episodes.

Tones On Tail "Go!"

Jonathan Snipes "Dies Irae (Room 237)"


"Burnt Tongues" edited by Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas, and Dennis Widmyer - a selection of transgressive short stories from members of The Cult Workshop. Some particular highlights for me included "Live This Down" by Neil Krolicki, "Charlie" by Chris Lewis Carter, "Melody" by Michael De Vito Jr, "Gasoline" by Fred Venturini, "Heavier Petting" by Brien Piechos, and "Zombie Whorehouse" by Daniel W. Broalt.

"Celebrityville" - initially my next writing project was going to be a novelisation of my screenplay "Allen Bridge", but I decided to instead put together a novella that will act as a prequel-of-sorts - or more like the first part of a series - to "Sleb". It's going to be called Celebrityville, and it will also be accompanied by a bonus short story that will be set in the same universe, but be written in a different style. More news on it as-and-when, but I've been busy jotting down numerous ideas for it over the last few weeks and will soon be diving head first into the writing process once more. The aim will be to once again publish it as both an eBook and a paperback, and to go for a wider release for the former.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (Xbox360) - if I was to sum this game up in one word, that word would have to be "sloppy". Frankly it's inexcusable to release a game - the sixth main game in the franchise, no less - that is so haphazardly put together. The series prides itself on its free-running and yet - constantly - I ran into problems with the central gameplay mechanic that was once in damn-near perfect working order the last time I played an AC game (which was AC: Revelations). I lost count of the number of times I'd run up walls or trees or crates that would lead nowhere (having never intended to run up or over them in the first place). As a matter of routine the game wouldn't recognise my input on the controller (a controller which isn't broken either, because it works perfectly with GTA V), so I'd often still have my left analogue stick pointing forward but Edward Kenway would be just hanging there doing nothing. Cluttered areas in the level design don't help either, so Edward doesn't know which thing he's supposed to be climbing or jumping onto - like I said - "sloppy".

Similarly the fighting mechanics, which become repetitive over time. So often the combat devolves into bum rush tactics on the part of the AI where Edward is swarmed by a plague of soldiers and it becomes entirely unfair. Rather than the enemy AI working together in a manner that'd be fair to the player, they instead work individually on their own combat time lines - you'll find yourself having to counter their attacks all at once. In the end you just have to run away and split them up and it all becomes nothing more than frantic button mashing rather than anything resembling skill. Again, for a franchise that prides itself on its combat, this sort of bum rush tactic is inexcusable. Said bum rushing even affected the naval combat where you often found yourself surrounded by several ships, and oftentimes within areas of not-so-open sea, so you'd be too distracted and crash your ship into shallow waters or rocky islands.

Like the clumsy free-running, combat, and underwater swimming, even interacting with objects in the world is a chore. Opening chests for example, so often you find yourself on the wrong side, and even when you're on the correct side you've got to position yourself so particularly to open them up. Indeed, interacting with so many things is a faff - want to get hold of your ship's swivel guns? Press B and it's anybody's guess whether or not you'll actually take hold of them. Speaking of the swivel guns - they're rubbish - time and time again I found their accuracy to be poor, if I could even get a decent shot. Frequently you couldn't swivel them round far enough, or you'd find that attacking taller ships would render the swivel guns useless.

Story wise, frankly, it's a bit bland. I struggled to follow the main plot, and - as is always the case with AC games - the present day stuff was boring and only served to get in the way of what you actually wanted to be doing, the reason why you bought the game in the first place, namely being a pirate of the high seas. Similarly dull are the Templar Hunt mission sequences - annoying 'tail' or 'eavesdrop' missions followed by the same old 'go to this area and kill a bunch of people plus the main target' round ups. The structure of numerous missions was also unclear, but the ability to approach events more stealthily was welcome over previous games.

It's a damn shame that I've found so many frustrations with Black Flag, because they put a ruddy great big smudge mark over all the good parts of the game (of which there are many). When the mechanics are working properly it's a hell of a fun time being a pirate - taking down a ship, swinging from a rope onto the rival's deck, and generally buckling some swash or whatever else pirates were known for. The game looks beautiful too, with some inspired level design, and it's jolly good fun sailing the high seas. However, once more - the sloppiness spoils it all. Essentially Ubisoft would be wise to provide less content and use the free time to finesse what they have. The story needed better clarity and characterisation (although Kenway was a good lead character), but on the other hand it's a considerable mercy that a big chunk of the busy work of previous games has been excised or streamlined (remember all those tedious hours spent unlocking every single business in any given area, or opening hundreds of teasure chests?). Indeed, for the most part the menu system works well - particularly for crafting - but even here there's glaring problems that could have been easily fixed. A prime example would be having to craft darts individually rather than en masse, or the time-consuming animations every time you sell an item. Cinematics also get in the way sometimes - little connective tissues that might look good the first time, but which become tedious every single time you see them thereafter (e.g. uncovering Mayan stones or messages in bottles).

Less filler, a more concise and focused story, streamlined interactivity, and attention to detail - to polish, to finesse - would be most welcome. For all the enjoyment Black Flag provides, it's besmirched by all the inexcusable frustrations and clumsiness.

Gallbladder Surgery & Recovery - for six months I've been suffering from gallstones, attacks of which always occurred at night and would routinely last for anywhere between 2 to 8 hours (generally four or five). The pain is, quite honestly, torture. Akin to what I imagine being stabbed in the stomach with multiple twisting knives, the phrase "writhing in agony" was tailor made for an affliction such as gallstones. Due to the length of time I'd been suffering the symptoms, and perhaps because I was on the wrong medication for two months (essentially the exact opposite medicine you'd want to be on for such a condition), I was referred to a Private facility while still being an NHS patient. Had this not happened I'd have been forced to endure the sheer agony (ask someone you know who has had gallstones, they're awful) for many weeks longer. Quite frankly, had I been given an ultrasound much sooner I'd have avoided so many horrendous nights. Anyway - the gallbladder is out and I've been able to compare keyhole surgery to open surgery (I had a hernia op via the latter a few years ago); it's like night and day. With open surgery I was bed ridden for weeks, with keyhole I'm nearly back to normal in a week and a half (bar the still-healing incisions, and letting my stomach get used to the changes of not having a gallbladder anymore). So hopefully this will now draw a line under what has, in all honesty, been a terrible experience that I wouldn't wish upon an enemy.

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