Boxes and Arrows
I think I think like a programmer.
I take a very systematic approach to everything, because ultimately everything is a system. And every system can be described in terms of boxes and arrows. There’s a TED talk about How To Make Toast which explores this point brilliantly but it might as well have been called How To Make Toast & Also This Is A Schematic for Craig’s Thought Process. Read more →
I put the needle on the groove and type out the review of a band I’ve never heard before.
The Random Record
“Platinum Hook” by Platinum Hook.
Another find in the Oxford Music shop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh.
Side One / Track One: Bittersweet (Greg Wright-Ronnie Vann)
Yes. Those synths sound like those moustaches, for sure. This is like going to Sonic the Hedgehog’s uncle’s wedding reception in both sound and embarassment at quite enjoying myself.
“Stick this in your ear, baby”
Subtle opening line.
Yeah I like this. The bass has a cool chirpy wah effect – it’s like a blippy, happy little scooter chugging its way through the song. Look, I’m not a music journalist so you best get used to phrase like that.
Crickey, there’s some pretty egregious synths on the go here. The keyboard player spent a lot of money on that synthesiser and dammit he’s going to twiddle all the knobs whether the song needs it or not.
Ok so reading the credits this song isn’t written by anyone in the band. Perhaps leading with a song they didn’t write is a bait/switch tactic? Let’s see…
Oh there’s a very gospel-tinged organ creeping into the outro. It’s a pretty colourful collection of sounds that sits nicely together. Busy instrumentation but not too overwhelming.
Side One / Track Two: Hotline (Wuilliam Talbert-Tyrone Steels-Edward Lattiomre)
Oh that’s a harsh transition considering this is the smoothest of smooth intros. I feel a sax is about to enter the story… Oh but I do much prefer this instrumentation.There’s space in the song to actually hear the instruments.
Here’s a fundamental truth of the universe: The fewer elements happening at the one time, the better. When applied to music the fwer number of sounds, the bigger they sound If you want to make an instrument sound impressive, give it space to sound impressive.
Oh wait I’ve read the credits properly: “PRODUCED AND ARRANGED BY GREG WRIGHT.”
I totally can’t tell what the backing singers are singing though. Might just be the vinyl which is pretty worn. Somebody spun this over and over and over.
Ah I like the descending bridge: simple bass stepping down the scale and pianos tinkling away at the top end.
SEXUAL GUITAR SOLO INCOMING!
PULL YOUR “O” FACE!
BITE THAT BOTTOM LIP!
HIPS ARE THRUSTING (presumably)!
Yeah I like this track too. It’s got a slower rumbling beat and has a cool (80s walking around a city at night in the rain) cinematic quality to it.
Another fade out… I should really research if fade outs are more prevalent in vinyl recordings due to space constraints.
Side One / Track Three: ‘Til I Met You (Robert Douglas-Stan Foster)
Oh hello, Mr Sax. I thought you were showing up in the last song. Oh yes, Mr Sax, I see you there, you can stop doing that now…
This song feels generic in every way. Like you could buy it out of Disco/Soul Ballad IKEA and assemble it yourself. There’s no real dynamic or control. No real craftsman skills required. It’s a slush of bits of music happening in sequence.
Ah, I see this song was written by the keyboard player. Though I don’t really hear any keyboards… Maybe he wrote this one so he could leave the stage and comb his moustache.
I reckon he’s the second from the left.
Oh finally this turgid track fading out…
Side One / Track Four: Standing on the Verge (of Getting it on) (George Clinton-Grace Cook)
Funk yeah! Super Tight brass opening! Tightly syncopated lyrics to the brass section with some subtle chicken-scratch guitar and bass/synth to back it all up.
Oh god this so much better. A nice showcase for the horn section and a chunky riff that reminds me of the main theme to Cowboy Bebop (cos I am nerdo).
The title of the song does sound — hang on a woman just said something in a southern cowboy accent — anyway, the title sounds like a Blood Hound Gang title. Relevant 90s reference.
Hmmm… do something different now song, you’re basically repeating the same 40 seconds and getting looser each time…
Ok this is moving “There’s a song(soul?) out tonight, yo, c’mon”. It’s won me back. Apparently I’m really fickle and you can lose this *points to booty* if you get lazy.
Yes, finally some quality funky giutar and bass “me time”. Oh and really nice subtle flanger effect on the guitar too.
Aaaahhhhh, this song was written by George Clinton. That explains why it’s so good. This makes sense.
Ok fading out on Side 1… Bittersweet and Standing on the Verge were good. I’ve already forgotten Tracks 2 & 3. Good work, brain, thanks for not cluttering up the place with the non-essentials.
Side Two / Track One – Hooked for Life (Robert Douglas)
Ok I won’t lie. I’ve not gone immediately onto Side Two. I fell down a brief YouTube hole culminating in this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkBSOapmJpc). So yeah, enjoy that later. Some great Star Wars facts in there. The Machete Cut is the way forward.
Anyway, onto Track One!
Side Two / Track One – Hooked for Life (Robert Douglas)
This sounds like a rubbish Children’s TV Show intro; something about a group of kids who fight bad guys in space with their dinosaur friends by playing stodgy music.
Very similar vibe to Track 1, Side 1, to be fair. It’s still too busy but I am enjoying parts of it. Parts. Not the whole.
Ha. Totally arbitrary stop/start after the chorus there. Why not? Well it totally gutted the flow. Silly choice.
Yeah I think my opinion of Platinum JHook is that there are too many people in the band and the songs are too busy as a result. It’s well performance but there’s no sense of purpose/direction.
Ha. I though it was fading out but it was me only me yawning and stretching.
Side Two / Track Two – Lover What You’ve Done (To Me) (Tina Renee Stanford)
Oh good grief. Am I playing Side 1 again? This sounds like the other smooth nonsence I’ve already heard.
Ok the chorus with the big bass/piano has it’s moments. Ugh, but the rest is the usual wash of strings, tinkling piano doodles and meandering acoustic guitars.
Yup this song has one good riff in the chorus. Again, it’s because the riff is a few instruments playing together with purpose. The rest of the song is people filling space with sounds.
Side Two / Track Three – Gotta Find a Woman (Stephen Daniels-Victor Jones-Robert Douglas)
Why is this song starting with jungle sounds? Are those vocals sounding like a monkey? I’m intrigued.. kind of. It’s slightly odd and sci fi- oh no wait, it’s some kind of funk/calypso?
“Gotta Find A Woman,
Gotta Be a Lady”
The lyrics are rubbish but at least I can understand them this time.
Yes this is getting closer back towards the better tracks I’ve heard so far although I feel like I’m still exploiring the lows of this record.
“Sunshine is you.
Sunshine is you.
Sunshine is yoooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuu BAH!”
I think Platinum Hook might be my example of a band who can play their instruments but can’t play any songs. Soul music with no real soul.
I’m drifting off and thinking about other things now… I might go see the new Bond film later.
Oh no, jungle sound bit, don’t play again and think I care. I don’t care anymore.
Side Two / Track Four- City Life (Greg Wright-Karin Petterson)
Electro-Motown. Ragtime piano intro and shouty vocals. Promising start… Don’t screw it up now…
And again we’re off and running into a cluttered arrangement of everyone play something at the same time —
Actually the verse is holding back. Rolling bass lines and synth stabs. I like it.
Goddamnit, Platinum. Keep it tight! This chorus is sloppy. or maybe it’s the pre-chorus.
Haha. No idea what that build/climax was meant to be. But we’re back into the verse which I dig.
I feel like a Dance Instructor – bear with me – standing at the side of a stage watching dancers who I now can dance flail their body parts around the stage ignoring me while I yell “KEEP IT TOGETHER! NO! IN TIME TO THE MUSIC PLEASE!”
“Minor hit”. Sounds about right.
Platinum are best when they’re playing very little. Sadly their best just isn’t very good, and the best tracks weren’t written by the band. Best feature of the band?:
The ‘Podcast’ Podcast is a podcast about podcasts. A fun run of our favourite podcasts for your enjoyment:
(An hour-long audio hijacking)
First things, first. Let us introduce a new heavy metal podcast featureing out own Alan Williamson!
Join Lewis (the English one) and Alan (the Irish one) on a musical journey through rock and metal albums old and new, as they disagree with each other on whether the albums are actually any good.
Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.
Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we’ve just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible (99 Percent Invisible) is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars, KALW in San Francisco, and Radiotopia from PRX.
A powerful yet simple audio podcast player, with features such as Smart Speed, Voice Boost, and Smarter Playlists to help you listen to more podcasts in more places, try new shows, and completely control your experience.
Thanks for dropping by the Control Point staging area. Your progress is being monitored at this moment. We promise not to lie to you while within the confines of this block. We produce weekly service announcements for the Team Fortress 2 simulation. Please be advised to listen to the end each week, as we serve cake to all that make it to the end.
The official podcast of GamersWithJobs.com, every week the guys discuss the latest games, issues affecting the industry and more! This is THE gaming podcast for mature gamers.
In WNYC’s new podcast series, award-winning actor Alec Baldwin gives the listener unique entrée into the lives of artists, policy makers and performers. Alec sidesteps the predictable by taking listeners inside the dressing rooms, apartments, and offices of people such as comedian Chris Rock, political strategist Ed Rollins and Oscar winner Michael Douglas. Here’s the Thing: Listen to what happens when an inveterate guest becomes a host. Subscribe now and get new interviews every two weeks.
The world’s favorite podcast about old video games reaches its next stage! Join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Ray Barnholt and a variety of guests as they discuss the favorite games and topics of yesteryear.
We recap the finest podcasts, bringing you the best highlights from great humor to insightful commentary.
A Life Well Wasted is an internet radio show about videogames and the people who love them.
Unlimited Hyperbole is a short, weekly podcast about videogames and the stories we tell about them. Each episode profiles a different person from within the games industry using as a lens a topic decided for a season of episodes.
Polygon’s Quality Control is a short podcast hosted by Justin McElroy in which critics talk about a new video game they reviewed. If you like a little additional context and insight with your game reviews, this is the show for you.
We love games but that’s OK! A podcast from Scott and Joe, the Bit Socket boys, all about the video games that we love.
Serial is a new podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial unfolds one story – a true story – over the course of a whole season. The show follows the plot and characters wherever they lead, through many surprising twists and turns. Sarah won’t know what happens at the end of the story until she gets there, not long before you get there with her.
This American Life is a weekly public radio show, heard by 2.2 million people on more than 500 stations. Another 1.5 million people download the weekly podcast. It is hosted by Ira Glass, produced by Chicago Public Media, delivered to stations by PRX The Public Radio Exchange, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards.
On Radiolab, science meets culture and information sounds like music. Each episode of Radiolab® is an investigation — a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around One Big Idea. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab is produced by WNYC public radio.
A show about the internet, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. From Gimlet.
A podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.
Back to Work is an award winning talk show with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing productivity, communication, work, barriers, constraints, tools, and more. Hosted by Merlin Mann & Dan Benjamin.
The director’s commentary track for Daring Fireball.
Three nerds discussing tech, Apple, programming, and loosely related matters.
Mark Kermode discusses the latest film releases with Simon Mayo. Lively, controversial and unmissable movie discussion. Broadcast live on Fridays at 2pm on BBC Radio 5 live.
Jeff Goldsmith interviews screenwriters and filmmakers alike about their creative process!
The Flop House is a bi-monthly audio podcast, devoted to the worst in recent film. Your hosts (Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington) watch a questionable film just before each episode, and then engage in an unscripted, slightly inebriated discussion, focusing on the movie’s shortcomings and occasional delights.
John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, the transatlantic region’s leading bi-continental satirical double-act, leave no hot potato unbuttered in their worldwide-hit weekly topical comedy show.
Podcast by Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier
Very Bad Wizards is a podcast featuring a philosopher (Tamler Sommers) and a psychologist (David Pizarro), who share a love for ethics, pop culture, and cognitive science, and who have a marked inability to distinguish sacred from profane. Each podcast includes discussions of moral philosophy, recent work on moral psychology and neuroscience, and the overlap between the two.
Twice-monthly community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide. Welcome to Night Vale.
Money makes the world go around, faster and faster every day. On NPR’s Planet Money, you’ll meet high rollers, brainy economists and regular folks — all trying to make sense of our rapidly changing global economy.
Touch. So very few games make me feel like I touch the world let alone have the world respond. In many ways this the secret of Minecraft: a world composed of blocks, each and every one tactile and responsive, and the closest I ever feel like being able to reach down in a videogame and run my hand through the grass. Read more →
A Freemium Intervention
In the 24 hours following my public outing as a Simpsons: Tapped Out player I was contacted through Facebook, WhatsApp and SMS by my family, girlfriend and best friend:
|My Family||My Girlfriend||My Best Friend|
I need to stop playing Tapped Out. I’ve admitted I had a problem.
Previously, I said I would stop when my 90-day corn finished growing. Uninstalling the app will not be enough though.
I must blow up Springfield.
And how was your meal, sir?
This review of Broken Age: Act 1 concludes a trilogy of thrilling budgetary reports:
A Double Fine Audit, 12/02/12: A snapshot of the money raised within the first 24 hours of Double Fine posting, and achieving, their funding target to develop Broken Age.
A Double Fine Accounting, 08/04/12: A final tally of the money raised once the closing the funding drive after achieving roughly eight times more than their original target.
Both posts have colourful graphs. So colourful in fact the maker of the graph maker software uses them as examples of excellently coloured graphs.
And now nearly two and a half years later I submit my one word Broken Age review: Underwhelming.
To explain just how underwhelming will take more words. Read more →
I put the needle on the groove and type out the review of a band I’ve never heard before.
The Random Record
“New Dimensions” by The Three Degrees.
I found this record in the Soul/Disco box in Oxfam Music in Stockbridge, Edinburgh. I’m not sure which genre I’m getting here; the three black vocalists could easily fall in either Soul or Disco camp (I’m hoping for Supremes-style flare either way).
The cover grabbed my attention but the reason I bought the record screamed out to me in neon pink:
Now my introduction to the man, like many I suppose, is from his recent collaboration with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories. His track basically tells his backstory so I’ll let him tell it:
While I didn’t know the man I knew the sound. I’ve always loved those relentless arpeggio synth bass lines, most famously from Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”:
…which I found because of John Frusciante covering it during a Red Hot Chili Pepper’s concert:
This is how I sing in the shower incidentally.
Anyway back to Giorgio: turns out he’s got a new album out soon. His latest single “74 is the new 24” contains similar crisp guitar chops to those of Random Access Memories:
So yeah that’s a bonus find by picking up this random record.
Now let’s put the needle on the grooves and hope to God this is not shit disco.
Side One / Track One: Giving Up, Giving In
Chunky synth bass…
Oh yeah… Supremes-esque “Aaaahhhss”.
This is good disco!
Nice chord build.
Ooft. Funky bass synth and ascending vocal climbs. I’m all into this.
There’s a nice blend of synth and natural instrumentation going on this track: lots of bongos(?) and small drums/percussion but with some (good) cheesy synth drum fills.
The chorus is a bit messy, but after the killer verse I’m not surprised they don’t know where to go.
The second chorus elevates with the additional blippy synths panning left-to-right, though. So that’s a place to go…
The song could have used with a little more restraint in layers. The outro is the best example of when it works: stripped back to the fuzzy bass synth and then reintroduce the horns, strings, blippy synths and “Aaaahhhs”.
Don’t care though because the verse is the song.
Oh wait that wasn’t the outro. I think this outro is the heavy strings section.
Hang on. I’m looking at the back of the cover now. These songs are all 5/6 minutes long////////
////Oh wait I’m onto the next song and I’ve only just realised! Where did the first song end exactly?
Side One / Track Two: Falling in Love Again!
I really like the vocals. It’s everything I expected in terms of clarity and strength. Really solid tone that stands apart from the rest of the instrumentation.
The galloping tom drums in this song really give it some pace. It’s tearing along to really string-heavy movements.
There’s a fairly Brian May/Queen-esque guitar solo in the bridge in terms of legato (bended) notes and major/minor third harmonies- and I love how it’s all layered against a buzzy sawtooth synth.
There’s so much going on in this song too, especially come the second/third chorus. It’s like they wanted everyone in the band to have a section to show off. It’s intense and the vocals are the fire at the centre of this song.
Oh no wait dammit it’s now into track three! I’ve missed it again.
Side One / Track Three: Looking for Love
Ok, so this record is produced fucking wonderfully. The tracks effortlessly blend into each other. I need to go back and try figure out how the songs are changing keys (using common chords as stepping stones?). This isn’t something I can do by ear so I’ll have to find the notes by playing guitar and try to follow the basslines next time I play it. Which might be immediately after I finish writing.
Anyway this song is my favourite so far. There’s a cool play between a harpsichord-style synth and [Editor’s note: I didn’t finish this sentence. Something. It plays between harpsichord and something.]
The verses have a more solid vocal line that the other tracks which at times feel like guest appearances. Here the vocals are the rail tracks that carry and propel the rest of the song forward.
Wow – the bridge is nice and loose compared to how tight the rest of the songs are. They’re just repeating the same four bars and layering in more instruments. But it’s all about those long-ringing notes from the fuzz bass (I think there’s some EQ tweaking over the notes too to make them swell and wash away like that). Really makes me want to smash out heavy bass notes on my guitar with the big distortion/octave shift settings and let the notes ring out and piss off the neighbours (again).
Right that’s the needle stopped on Side One. Damn that was good. I really wasn’t expecting the tracks to transition into each other so seamlessly.
I’m wondering now if the transitions from one song to another is a disco staple/trope. It would make sense in terms of playing a full record in a discotheque rather than playing single tracks and bouncing between records.
Incidentally, this is an important rule of these Random Record Reviews: no research before/during listening to the record. Fresh ears and ignorant mind only, please. Maybe I’ll check Wikipedia after, maybe I won’t.
Side Two / Track One – The Runner
Right I’ve taken a minute to write in the names of the tracks on Side Two. Pay attention, Wilson…
Slightly more minor flavour in the intro to this track with the descending stabbing synth treble line.
Ooft, uplifting major chorus. Damn I should really try to do more of this counter play in my own nonsense. Pull and release.
Haha! Just noticed the plastic cowbell getting bashed to shit in the chorus. It’s so hard to mix cowbells in a song with any subtlety. It often feels like a placeholder for another instrument they forgot to record.
Oh and now it’s cowbelling through the verse. Oh wait it’s not plastic I don’t think. They’re muting it by holding the bell because they gradually released their grip and it rang out more in the final bars of the verse. That’s professional level cowbell on display here.
This song is fantastic though.
Side Two / Track Two – Woman In Love
Ok I’m guessing this is now track two. Brass section is leading the charge on this one over an unshifting single-note synth bassline.
Now they’re stepping down in chords and oohs beneath the synth bass. There’s a name for this when the bass remains static (either on single note or in a riff) and the other instruments provide the movement… I also learned this from an Red Hot Chili Pepper’s video. I’ll link here if I find it.
[Editor’s note: It’s called a ‘modal’ groove: here’s the RHCP explanation from the track Turn It Again.]
Oh wait maybe this isn’t track two. This chorus is still “The Runner”. God dammit!
That lovely thing has happened where on the first listen to a song I’ve lost track of time. Yup fading out of track one now…
Side Two / Track Two (for real this time) – Woman In Love
Urgh, not a fan of that drum intro. This is a slower jam. Haha- why am I surprised by the gliding bell slide into the verse? Classic smooth lounge soul.
I’m not really feeling this song. It’s sparser than the previous tracks and is much, much slower. I wonder if this is what the Three Degrees sounded like before working with Giorgio?
Also the lyrics are a bit slush bullshit. It’s all about a Woman in Love needing only one man and how she basically seems to exist to love and “give you all that I have”. I prefer the image of Three Degrees of Non-stop Bloody Action.
Yuk. Sappy saxophone solo. This Four killer songs out of five is damn impressive though.
Another faded out song. Couldn’t have happened sooner.
Side Two / Track Three – Magic in the Air
Really soul-heavy vibes in this intro. Chirpy, wah-laden guitar and bass stabs while a keyboard layers out the chord progression.
I found this record in the Disco/Soul section – it perfectly describes the split between side’s one and two.
Ah the harmony vocals in the chorus win this track for me. Again a slower end to the record than how it started. Nice contrast in a sense- too much energy can be tiring and cheapen the tricks/tracks that came before. Diminishing returns is what they’ve avoided.
There’s no synth in this song strangely enough. The orchestration and balance between the instruments is so noticably more interesting than in “Woman in Love”. There’s always a melody in the spotlight: when the vocals conclude a guitar line or string section steps in and shows off a little then steps aside for the vocals to return.
Really nice song. Positively chilled out compared to side one but still captures the same stylish flare.
Again fading out the song. I suppose that was a limitation of how much music you could fit on a vinyl. Not unlike today when you can record and play a 24-hour song.
Ok we’re done!
Reading the credits for each track explains how I felt about the record:
Side One / Track One: Giving Up, Giving In – Giorgio Moroder / Pete Bellotte
Side One / Track Two: Falling in Love Again! – Giorgio Moroder / Pete Bellotte
Side One / Track Three: Looking for Love – Giorgio Moroder / Pete Bellotte
Side Two / Track One – The Runner – Shiella Ferguson / Giorgio Moroder
Side Two / Track Two – Woman In Love – D. Bugatti / F. Muskar
Side Two / Track Three – Magic in the Air – Giorgio Moroder / Pete Bellotte
I’m a fan of the Giorgio / Pete partnership! Wikipedia tells me Pete Bellotte was Giorgio’s main production partner and worked on the Donna Summer’s songs too. Makes sense.
Shiella Ferguson is one of the Three Degrees. Makes sense.
I can’t seem to find anything on D. Bugatti / F. Muskar to explain why there song sucked. Makes sense.
The first three tracks which transitioned so beautifully into the next on the record tell a continous story now I read the track titles. Makes sense.
I really like this record. I might be a fan of disco. As I discover more disco I will probably refine that sentiment into “I’m a fan of good disco”.
Regardless, I’m a fan of Giorgio Moroder for sure.
Breaking the Backlog
I own 97 uncompleted videogames. That’s 97 times where I’ve either failed to start, given up after starting or, shockingly, didn’t even realise I owned the damned thing. Not one of the 97 have been completed to my satisfaction.
The fact I don’t play games very often or spend too long playing the evil games doesn’t help.
Before I buy any new games I need to finish the old ones. But where to start?
Start by prioritising
Thanks, Sub Header!
I’ve divided up the pile of shame into three priorities:
Excited to Play, Curious to Play, Not Interested in Playing.
Then I went mad, built a spreadsheet and graphed the hell out of it because I’m on holiday and no-one told me to stop:
Then go mad
The 13 Games of 2015
Beyond Good and Evil: Kindly gifted to me by the good Rick Lane, BG&E is one of the old guard of my pile of shame. I was put off at the time by the thoughts of playing using the keyboard. I now have a wired Xbox controller, mapping software and the hope that BG&E will be like Psychonauts in terms of colour and imagination.
Company of Heroes: The first RTS that Shawn Elliott fell in love with. He raved about it on the GFW Radio podcasts and I’ve always been curious. Hopefully it fairs better than StarCraft II did. I’ve also got a World War Two book that would sit nicely alongside this.
Fez: Colour and imagination will be a theme in my picks. I’ve played a little of Fez and dug it. I will warn you now that walkthroughs will be deployed often and early in the face of prolonged head scratching.
Gods Will Be Watching: The newest addition to the pile. The trailer struck me as having the vibe of Superbrothers Swords & Sworcery EP with more grit and narrative.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: The PS1 Grand Theft Auto 3 remains my favourite of the series. If I can overcome what I expect to be touchscreen controller issues and relive some of that nostalgia, even for a moment, then I’ll be happy.
Grim Fandango: Bought on eBay, installed a point-and-click mod to remove the tank controls and then… something happened. Or rather nothing happened. Something will happen soon.
Half Life: Black Mesa: On the Remastered episode of the podcast we talk about Black Mesa as being a surrogate game in place of an aged original. Let’s see if the Chinese Democracy of mods holds up.
Ni No Kuni: Colour: check. Imagination: check. Reportedly long, long JRPG: argh. This is what I’m playing right now but I’m tempted to switch and clear Tiny & Big from the pile.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty: The second of the old games on the bottom of the pile. I’ve previously dabbled with multiplayer in the same way that a chimpanzee dabbles with quantum electrodynamics. What’s changed is I am now an avid competitive StarCraft II fan to the point I recognise Korean progamers. A grasp of the unit types and general play styles will help me now. I’m looking to complete the single player campaign and take on the multiplayer once more. At £39.99 this is the biggest buyer’s remorse I’ve ever had.
The Longest Journey: I started a Let’s Play of Longest Journey in the brief few months I spent living in a hotel in Portsmouth. I never uploaded it however because I was living in a hotel in Portsmouth. I’ll tackle once more as a Let’s Play as I did with Blade Runner.
Tiny & Big: Grandpas Leftovers: I suspect I’ve completed more of Tiny & Big than anything else on the list. Loved the creative freedom afforded in solving the puzzles and the soundtrack is killer.
Unreal: Gold: I’ve played a little but need to get back on the horse. Probably second on the hitlist after Tiny & Big. I’ve got the book. Now I need the momentum.
Uplink: Bought it years ago and when the mood has struck me I’ve been without a mouse. Or I only get in the mood when I know I can’t play. (Don’t tell anyone but I’m hoping this might actually teach me something about networked computers…. sshhhhhhh…)
What the, Why the, how the, how much?!
Apart from the priority list I learned a few things.
I bought the games I’m excited to play from a variety of online and retail stores and they’re mainly PC games. This is comforting in a sense because my next big purchase/project is to build a new, sweet gaming rig. Around £60 worth of investments to realise. That previous sentence is perhaps the most project management thing I’ve ever vomited. Not wrong though.
I have no interest in playing around half of my pile of shame. Most of these came bundled along with another game I genuinely wanted to play (Humble Bundles being the biggest sinner) and the rest were free Games with Gold downloads from Xbox Live I felt obliged to download. What wasn’t free games amounts to £40 of many, little impulse buys on Steam sales and other online stores.
The curious to play games are quite curious really. They are mainly games I actively sought out but when I ask myself today what do I want to play they didn’t make the cut. Either I’ve tried them and they failed to win me over or I have moved on since then. Once I kill off The 13 Games of 2015 I’ll look to make a good dent into these curiosities.
In true project management style(y) I will report back progress monthly on how I’m breaking the backlog. In some sense this is also a list of reviews you can expect from me.
13 games over twelve months is manageable.
Project managable, that is!
(I may have finished off the leftover Christmas/New Year’s wine when writing this btw)
Bonus Pile of Shame: Book Edition
Return of the Rick Lane is a late-2014 sequel to Episode 5: A Very PC Podcast featuring Rick Lane.
Rick Lane is in this one.
Recorded in Craig’s flat around the same table for the first time in three years.
(An hour of friendly chat)
Chapter 1: Foreshadowing
It all began in January 2014.
Like any grand opera the opening overture establishes the themes.
After downloading and launching The Simpsons: Tapped Out for the first time it proceeds to download a further update in a most curious manner:
Three minutes later:
Five minutes later:
In this way Tapped Out lays bare both its gaming philosophy and psychological ploys. The game is from beginning to end (scratch that- there is no end) a series of time-lapsed progress bars whose sole purpose in completing is to unlock more progress bars to complete. You build stuff to buy stuff to build more stuff by waiting for stuff.
Each tap on the screen counts off another wasted heartbeat as you retreat into a non-judgemental world free from challenge and threat. Slowly your immune system shuts down and soon your body atrophies into dust.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
But we all know this. Everyone knew about this garbage back with Farmville. Swap out the Simpsons for dumb-looking pigs and YOLO we’re back in 2009.
What I didn’t realise was that all it took was the familiar yellow warmth of The Simpsons to break my resolve.
I’m rather enjoying Tapped Out. And I’ve been enjoying it for some time.
Chapter 2: Psychological Warfare
Freemium games exploit the same psychological effects as with gambling:
|Denomination effect||People are less likely to spend larger bills than their equivalent value in smaller bills e.g. spending ten £5 notes “feels” less than spending one £50.|
|IKEA effect||Consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.|
|Illusion of control||People feel a sense of control over outcomes that they demonstrably do not influence.|
|Planning fallacy||People tend to underestimate how much time will be needed to complete a future task.|
|Post-purchase rationalisation||Consumers who purchase an expensive product tend to overlook any faults/defects in order to justify their purchase.|
|Restraint bias||People tend to overestimate their ability to control impulsive behavior.|
|Time-saving bias||People tend to incorrectly estimate the time that could be saved/lost when modifying an aspect of a task.|
Tapped Out plays on the additional psychological hook of nostalgia. I loved the Simpsons. We all do, really. For me it’s a love so strong I still check out the new episodes every now and then. Every time I am disappointed.
The writing in Tapped Out is surprisingly funny and lovingly self-aware:
But that doesn’t stop them touting their exciting, new episodes:
I think I’ll live without knowing that answer.
Chapter 3: Purchasing the Competitive Edge
There are two currencies in Tapped Out:
- Dollars (standard currency). Earned by completing character tasks and standard building tasks. Used to purchase most content.
- Donuts (premium currency). Earned by levelling up by completing character missions. Used to purchase premium content. Can be purchased bulk for real world money.
Only fools spend real money on fake donuts to earn more fake dollars.
A Mystery Box has a chance of containing a premium item and costs 6 Donuts.
A Homer Buddha is guaranteed to contain a premium item and costs 15 Donuts.
I decided to buy a Homer Buddha…
WTF. My guaranteed premium item gets downgraded to a chance premium gift…
… which contains a bench.
Perfect. I’ll put it with my other bench.
Chapter 4: Chinese Water Torture
A classic freemium tactic is to reward daily play. If you don’t play daily you miss out on The Daily Play Reward! Oh no! The shame!
This is the easy way to earn a Mystery Box:
Want to see a Mystery Box become even more mysterious?:
Boom. Box inside a box. Mystery inside a mystery…
…containing another bench.
Truly I am wasting my time.
I’ll put it with the others.
Somehow I’ve kept playing and I’m now Level 13. Don’t quite remember how that happened.
Chapter 5: A Moment of Reflection
I’m trying to get to sleep and my phone starts vibrating and making noise.
It’s a late night in February. I’ve been “playing” for over a month now.
I remember the first few days. Building those first few buildings with only Homer and Lisa. Having to wait twenty minutes for what? A pointless word bubble and a task that takes an hour…
What garbage. I’m going back to sleep.
Chapter 6: A Moment of Shame
I don’t have any friends who play Tapped Out.
I don’t want my friends to know I play Tapped Out.
I don’t have any Tapped Out friends.
I need Tapped Out friends to unlock certain items.
Let’s see how social this game gets then.
I add half a dozen “friends” from a Tapped Out forum I joined. Some of them are nicer than others and visit my Springfield every day. Others are less responsive.
I can’t communicate to my new friends in any way. They are all bigger than me and have more stuff. I am building my Springfield to be pretty. They build theirs to be powerful.
Mass-building blue houses to farm as much dollar per square value as possible. How sad.
Chapter 7: A Moment Like Any Other
April. Three months into this passing fancy.
Stop mocking me.
Chapter 8: The Twilight Zone
A most interesting thing happened today. A glitch. A trip off the rails.
Tapped Out logged me into someone else’s game!
They have more stuff than me. And lots of premium characters and buildings.
I decide to leave them a message, the first and only time I communicated with another player. I write the message with bushes.
I started playing the Events (special themed missions that run over calendar events. These events introduce another time pressure and introduce a third type of currency to collect.
For the Easter event you collected coloured eggs.
Now the Egg Council Guy is my favourite Simpsons joke. Ever.
I wanted to win that Egg Council Guy. Badly.
Goddamn Johnny Fiestas. I WANT MY EGG COUNCIL GUY!
I WANT HIM NOW!
Chapter 10: Blacking Out
My memory goes foggy for the next few months.
I don’t even remember what this 1am wake up call was achieving. But I woke up and tapped my fake Springfield for a bit and went back to sleep. This was a week day and I had work in the morning.
Chapter 11: Stonecutters
It’s now July. Six months lost.
First television appearance of Egg Council Guy!
Chapter 12: Professional, high-level play
Need more dollar. Build more blue. More blue mean more dollar.
Chapter 13: Halloween
October. Nine month anniversary!
I <3 you, Tapped Out.
I know. I’m happy too.
Chapter 14: Christmas
Finger tips are numb.
My eyes hurt.
Final Chapter: 90 Days of Corn
Cletus’s Farm has a joke task to make Corn taking 90 days to complete.
So I started it expecting to draw a line under this whole mess…
…but that fact that I’m still playing…
…scares the hell out of me…
… I need to destroy my Springfield.
… I need to escape this prison.
… I need to uninstall Tapped Out.
Right after I finish this corn.
This contest was fixed from the start…
My taste in music crystallised in 2004. Since then few bands have elbowed their way into my
record iTunes collection in any permanent fashion. I couldn’t name you any new music that came out in 2014. On a recent podcast I joked with Alan about having a Neil Young shrine in my living room. I wasn’t lying. But that’s a story for another article.
Creativity is turning nothing into something. Different from the joy of Five out of Ten magazine or any of the lovely nonsense on Split Screen, when I make music it’s like conjuring magic from thin air.
This summer I took a week off work, rearranged my living room and sat down to explicitly write and record some music. These are my diary pages and I’d like to take you through them.
The files are in .m4r (ringtone files for iPhones) and .mp3 (normal, human musical files for normal, sensible phones).
Colonel, I got a Codec call from someone outside this operation!
The VG Resource is a cool site for videogame resources and I appreciate their straight-talking, no nonsense naming conventions.Typically it’s where I go to find sound files to turn into ringtones because I’m that sort of guy now.
Here are the Metal Gear Solid sounds I use on my iPhone because I’m also that sort of guy. If I had a bluetooth headset I’d get down on one knee to answer calls.