This is my Blog, on it I simply write stuff that I feel like writing about. You'll find it heavily slanted towards tech, games, entertainment and the like. I write about other stuff too, and somethings I write about things. I also do photography, the link is on your right.
Saturday, 20 April 2013
Every blog needs to have some sort of theme. A commonality that ties all the posts and all the content together. That's how you build up a reader base. You find a group people with similar interests and you cater to them; create a community. No matter how esoteric your content might be, there will be people that hold that same interest. That, dear readers is the terrible horror and the radiant beauty of the internet.
My blog was supposed to be about technology, gaming and photography. To some degree it still slants in that direction, but it’s a far cry from zeroing in on that content. I’m kind of all over the place. Sometime I feel like I’ve turned this into a directionless rambling stream of consciousness. A personal diary made public. This is reinforced by the one and only rule I gave myself when I started this little venture. My mandate was to always write for myself. I would not censor myself, cater to or pander to anyone. I now see the folly in that. If I’m going to do that, I might have been better served by hiding a little leather bound book under my bed and scribbling "Dear Diary…"
However, I didn’t do that. I chose a relatively public forum for a reason, and my writing needs to reflect that. In theory almost anyone in the world can read what I write here. Now if the talking miniature hippo living in my closet were to waddle up to me and ask me, “why?” What would my answer be? I do it because I have a compelling need to engage people emotionally. I want people to read, observe, or interact with content I have created and feel something. Entertained, happy, introspective, scared, sad, or curious. I see media of all types that manage to break through that ever thickening layer of cynicism and I feel jealous, I want that. Everyone has examples of a song that always makes them cry, or movie that you never get sick of, or a book that blew your mind. How about a video game like Journey? An experience that lets you connect with a complete stranger to share in a little virtual sojourn. How many mouths were hanging open in stunned satisfaction as the ending to Bioshock Infinite bowled them over? I want that.
People always say you want what you can’t have, or in my case, won’t have. What I mean is I don’t deserve to have it. If I did get it, I would feel guilty about having it and try my hardest to get rid of it. At least that’s what my sub-conscious would have me believe. Now we are getting to the heart of the little hippo’s question, and we see that there is some faulty wiring. You see, I post on this blog because there is a low chance of it becoming successful and a high chance of failure. You may think that you read that wrong, or possibly that I wrote it wrong. nope.
I’m actually not very afraid of failure. If people don’t like my writing, and never read it, It doesn’t really bother me all that much. But what if suddenly thousands of people wanted to read my blog? Or what if some mainstream legit site wanted me to write for them, and even pay me to do it? Well, that scares the ever living shit out of me. Paradoxically this is also what I would love to have happen.
Thus begins the self sabotage. First off, I should be heeding the advice at the beginning of this post. I should be making content relevant to a group of people with my common interest, and it should be written for them, not me. Ironically NOT writing posts like this one. Next up, as any upstart will tell you, if you want to get your project off the ground, you need exposure. You need to be all over the Internet hyping up your shit. you need to be shameless and persistent. You need to be consistent and regular with new content. You have to be disciplined enough to do it even when you don’t feel it. I don’t do any of this, and it keeps me nice and cozily insulated from any kind of positive exposure.
That’s what my life seems to be, a series of non-starts. I have literally a lifetime of unrealized ideas for short stories, novels, plays, photo shoots, and game designs…some of them might even be good. Therein lies the problem, if I start to flush out some of these ideas, put a lot of effort into them and make them happen and they turn out shit, well no harm done. I’ll look like one of those people on America Idol during the audition episodes. You know the ones that are supremely confident that they are amazing vocalists, only to open their mouths and out come that kind of sounds you think you’d hear in the ninth circle of hell. It’s kind of amusing, but they leave the audition and just go back to their life, just doing what they do, and enjoying it. But what if…? What if some people really like something I do? What if one of these ideas took off? I don’t know if I could handle that. Why should I be successful? Why should I, when at any given time there are thousand of people better than me at any given discipline.
One step at a time I suppose. Of all the creative endeavours that I have not pursued, even though I’ve dearly wanted to, one has managed to wrestle it’s way out of my brain and into reality despite all the odds. Dark Pixels: The Blog. Huzzah!
So where do I go from here? Should I re-focus this blog and zero in on technology, games and photography? Nahh…..I don’t think so. I like writing posts like this, it helps me to get my mind sorted. If I’m really lucky, I’ll give someone a chuckle or two, or even get them to do some introspecting of their very own. As for the other problem, I know what the short answer is: I should just go for it, and let the chips fall where they may. Knowing it is a completely different hurdle than doing it, and I don’t know if I can jump high enough yet.
Here’s what I say. If your blog is not on target, don’t re-aim, move the target. I’m going to create a whole new category of blog, population: me. I’ll call it “technology and introspection: examining the inner workings of gadgets and the mind.” Or TI:EIWGM for short. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like I hoped it would, but does have a certain charm, does it not? If anyone knows of an already existing community of TI:EIWGM'ers please, point me to them, maybe I can promote Dark Pixels.
For a final blowing of the mind:
I’m afraid of success, but I’ve been so far completely successful in not being a success. That would make me a failure at being unsuccessful. So my real problem is that I’m afraid of failing to not fail, which is the one thing I don’t want to do: fail to not fail to be successful.
P.S. Happy 40th post! It's about 39.5 more than I thought I'd ever write.
Sunday, 7 April 2013
The talk of the video game world these days, the “belle of the ball” so to speak, is most indubitably Bioshock Infinite. Everywhere you roam on review sites it’s getting perfect or near perfect scores. It’s unanimous, the game is amazing, but what I want to know is why? What sets this game apart from all of it’s contemporaries.
Let’s start with the basics. The game looks gorgeous, bright, colourful, and inventive, creative environments abound. The environments are so detailed and lush that the first 30 minutes or so of the game is literally you just wandering around taking in the sights and sounds of the world, and it’s not boring in the least. The game is set on a floating city. Streets, building, parks, even a beach, float on connected platforms that bob lazily up and down and stretch out and far as the eye can see as clouds drift amongst them. In this story it is 1912, so all the aesthetics reflect that, clothing, architecture and music, right down to the floating stage with a barbershop quartet signing merrily.
Second is the gameplay itself. As any gamer will tell you, this is of paramount importants for any game, for obvious reasons. If a game is hard, confusing or frustrating to play, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is. Lucky for us Bioshock Infinite has some of the tightest most precise gameplay I've ever seen. Combat, which is the core of any first person shooter is extremely satisfying. The weapons are plentiful and easy to come by, no matter how you like to play it, there is a perfect weapon for you. There is a mechanic in the game called “vigours” essentially special ablities that give you a little extra edge in combat. Things like lightning bolts, fire grenades, and my personal favourite the “bucking bronco” which launches all the enemies in front of you into the air, flinging them like ragdolls which you can then pick off at your leisure. Even the environment itself can be used as a weapon. You get a grapple hook of sorts that you can latch onto rails. You hang from the bottom of them, zipping around like a roller coaster, peppering enemies with gunfire and leaping down on unsuspecting foes. It’s fast, furious and it never seems to get old, it’s just plain satisfying.
Now if we were to just stop there what have we got? A good looking fun game, in a nutshell. There are plenty of good looking fun games out there, that alone is not enough to garner perfect or near perfect scores. There must be something else. Something that raises this game to a different level.
This game takes on topics head on that most developers would never dare to. Racism, racial segregation, oppressive religious ideologies, choice, free will, and redemption. Simply put, this is a mature game. Normally when we refer to a game as mature, that means in the ESRB sense. That little “M” in the corner of the box to let parents know that a game has blood, violence and naughty language. Well, BS:I has all that, but that’s not why I would call it mature. It’s mature because it deals with these heady topics in a way that feels very “grown up” for lack of a better word.
Right near the beginning of the game, as you are wandering around this idyllic setting you come across a stage where the inhabitants of the city are hosting a raffle. You character grabs a baseball from a basket with the number 77 written on it. They make the draw, and of course you win. You’re thinking “yay I won!” Then the curtains parts and behind them are a couple tied up, one white, one black. There is a moment of confusion before the announcer say, “Come on…are you going to throw it, or are you taking your coffee “black” these days. Then you have to make a choice. This is when you realize this game is going to go a lot deeper than your typical, “your mission is to blow shit up” style game that the industry is known for.
The archetype main character of a FPS shooter game is usually a blank slate. Take some popular games like Halo, or Half-life. Gordon Freeman doesn’t speak, and nobody has ever seen Master Chiefs face. The reason developers do this is so players can fill in the blanks with whatever they want, after all, they are viewing the entire game through the character's eyes. Essentially they look or sound exactly how you want them to.
This is another way BS:I sets itself apart, you play as Booker DeWitt, a down on his luck detective who is charged with going to Colombia, the floating city, and rescuing a girl names Elizabeth. Booker is not who you want him to be, he is a fully flushed out character with personality traits that are all his own. When you finally meet up with Elizabeth, you get to watch as her and Booker get to know each other, and slowly build a relationship. You get to see though Bookers eyes as he upsets Elizabeth, or comforts her. You get to watch as Elizabeth does the same for Booker. What makes this so powerful is that you are not a passive observer, your are right there, in the moment with them riding the same emotional roller coaster.
I don’t want to discuss the plot too much, but story is like a twisting turning road snaking it’s way up a mountain. The higher you go, the tighter and more urgent the twists and turns become. Hints, clues, little insights, keeping popping up, sometimes causing, sometime clearing confusion and intrigue. it builds and builds until you get to the top of the mountain, where you get a full view of everything that has transpired.
If your were to go on Youtube and search for “Bioshock Infinite discussion” your will find dozens of videos of people sitting around deconstructing what they experienced, discussing and sharing concepts and ideas that this game presents to the player. to me it’s more powerful than watching a really good movie. Each person who played, didn’t just watch, they experienced the story. you can seen that in their conversations, hear the enthusiasm in their voices.
I think people will be talking about this game for a very long time, which to me is the real reason for it’s perfect scores. In a medium where a game is played, loved dearly for a few days or weeks, and then forgotten, this is the tremendous accomplishment that BS:I has achieved.
Friday, 22 February 2013
Oh my goodness! The internets are all aflutter about Sony's press conference this week as they officially outed their shiny new next gen console, the creatively named PS4.
Hey! Wanna hear an angry, cynical, baseless opinion on how the conference went? Well, too bad, you’re gonna hear it anyway!
This gong show of a press conference was a dismal, awkward failure on so many levels. Let’s start with the hardware itself. They showed the fancy new controller, that’s all well and good, but they said nothing about how and why the fancy new controller is awesome. Hey look, you can share video clips on your Facebook page with a press of a dedicated share button! Wow, that adds a look to the game experience. What’s up with the camera sensor type thing they very briefly mentioned? The one that tracks the motion and position of the controller? What is that for? How is going to apply to new games, if at all? The touch pad, how is that gonna work?
The actual “console” itself was nowhere to be found. I put “console” in quotations because in my mind, the PS4 is still just theoretical. If seeing is believing, then I am having a crisis of faith right now. All the specs they did showcase falls squarely into the “no shit!” category. Lot’s of fast memory, copious amount of cores in the CPU, new graphics chip, and a faster Blu-ray drive. Was anybody shocked and surprised? Anybody at all? Basically after all this time in design they just said ”fuck it” and made a PC with a custom interface.
What’s the price of this bad boy? When is coming out? Where is the damn thing? What does it look like? I have a lot of unanswered questions. A lot of people have come to Sony’s defense on this one, stating that they need to leave some details for E3. Here’s what I say to that, “no they fucking don’t!” The cat is already most of the way out of the bag, just let the damn thing go. You think anyone is going to go crazy at E3 when they stand up on stage at the press conference and say, “you know that console we told everyone about months ago? Well, here’s the last few little tidbits of info that we inexplicably left out, for no discernable reason. Yay.
What does it matter what gets shown where? What they should have done is flushed out ALL the hardware details this week, and not bothered with those shitty tech demos and 7 month old trailers. Then when E3 comes around, blow everyone out of the water with all the excellent eye popping software. That’s what gaming is about after all, games, the hardware is secondary, just a means to a end. Now, if Sony doesn’t have any killer software to show off by the time E3 rolls around, then I think it’s time to pack it in.
The software that they did show, stuff like Killzone and Watch Dogs was very much a “been there, done that” sort of affair. Not to mention that they looked very current gen to me, as did the new title “Knack.” Everything else was nothing more than cutscenes and tech demos. I’ve heard some argue that developers need some time to figure out how to develop for the new system. Well, if a developer can’t get a game to work on what amounts to off the shelf PC components, then the whole industry is in a hell of a lot of trouble.
I really don’t give a shit what the possibilities of the system are, I want know what it is ACTUALLY doing. Most of the presentations were desolate at best, devoid of any real substance. Square-Enix was particularly lugubrious. They showed a rendered cut scene that they’d showed months ago, stating that that was what their goal was. Then they had the audacity to stand up on stage and say, “oh yeah, one more big announcement!” Everyone watching leans forward, curiosity piqued. “The big announcement is that there will be a big announcement at E3, LOL!” You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
Yo dawg, I hear you like announcements, so we put an announcement in our announcement!
A quick word about backwards compatibility. There is none. That quick enough? Ok, to be more specific, none of the software is backwards compatible, that includes PS1, 2, and 3 games. Not as of yet. They coyly hinted that they might be at some point. Translation: “We have no idea what we are doing.” Old Dualshock Controllers are also not compatible. However, move controllers are. Sony. Stop trying to make move controls happen, they are not going to happen.
On the plus side, this leaves Microsoft plenty of time to figure out what not to do. Sony put on a damn clinic about that. The victory is there for XBOX 720 to simply reach out and grab. That is, assuming MS doesn’t fuck it up somehow. I guess we’ll all get to see in a few months how this all pans out. Rest assured, I will be there to spout, angry, cynical, judgemental, obscenities.
P.S. Blizzards announcement of Diablo 3 coming out on console deserves nothing more than a post script.
Sunday, 17 February 2013
It’s that time again. Time for another baseless, highly uninformed, talking-out-of-my-ass opinion. Today’s topic? The state of affairs in the traditional “brick and mortar” retail business model. Specifically, whether said business model simply needs an overhaul, or needs to be “old Yeller’ed.” Taken out back and shot like a rabid dog.
Game Stop announced that it would be shutting down 250 stores in 2013. Best Buy closed 50 stores in 2012, their stock down a whopping 94% from the previous year. Sears has closed, or is in the process of closing 100 to 120 stores, K-mart closing 26. Zellers stock dropped by close to 100% in the past year, it’s last gasping breath was punctuated by a large Target logo, who bought them lock, stock and barrel in 2012. In addition to these tragic downfalls, I would also like a brief moment of silence for the following fallen: A&B sound, CompuSmart, Radio Shack, Blockbuster, and Rogers video. Cue the “Runaway Train” music.
Does this mean that retail all over the world is crashing, I mean, the world economy has gone to shit, we all know that. Surely that is to blame. Not so fast hot shot. If you do some snooping around you will find that businesses like Safeway, Loblaws, Shell, Bell, and Rogers are showing year after year growth, it’s business as usual. The difference of course is that all these companies provide what would be classified as essential services, food, clothing, gas, phones, things of that nature. They can pretty much continue business are usual, people won’t simply stop buying food anytime soon.
The first list of companies however, sell commodities, non-essentials, luxury items. Almost all of them involved in technology in some form or another. you can blame a depressed economy all you like, but I’m here to tell you that is not the case. The reason for all these failures is not unlike the recording industry trying to sue a 7 year old for piracy. It’s the inability to cope with and adjust to the changing landscape modern business. it’s a sad, sad downward spiral. Sales start to get soft, so they start to cut corners. First and foremost companies will cut payroll. They do this mainly because it’s a really easy stop-gap. It requires minimal effort to do, and saves a ton of money. Now all their stores are understaffed, and all the staff that survived end up doing the job of two or even three people for the same or less pay. They get surely, disgruntled, and unhelpful. It becomes a terrible experience to go shopping, and sales get softer. Now the company starts cutting stock. That saves a few bucks on purchasing, but now someone walks into the store and there is sweet fuck all to buy, everything is a special order. Well, if I’m gonna order it anyways, why don’t I just cut out the middle-man and order it myself from the comfort of my home? Sales start to get even softer, and the company starts closing stores. Eventually they just fade away, all the time wondering what went wrong, blaming everyone except themselves.
Here’s the thing, a store like Best Buy is commonly known as the “Amazon show room.” People go to the store to shop for products, find what they like and then go home and buy it online. Now why do they do this? Is it really because it’s 5 bucks cheaper? No, it’s because it’s pretty much the same experience either way. That is, you are going to be helping yourself. You won’t be getting any sort of meaningful help from anybody, remember those payroll cuts? How many times have you found yourself wandering around a store, craning your neck over the shelves fruitlessly searching for non-existent, unhelpful staff.
When is the last time you walked out of a retail outlet of any kind, feeling like you actually had a good time shopping there? It happens from time to time, but the majority of retail experiences these days go like this:
You walk into Bob’s Thing-a-ma-Bob’s. You either get ignored completely, or get a half-hearted, distracted greeting from someone who would rather be literally anywhere other than here. You walk over to the widget section display. You find that the display is dirty, and in complete disarray. There is ten slots for different widget display models, five of them are empty, and of the five full ones, three of the display models don’t work. You keep moving to the widget accessories section, right beside the sorry displays. Half of the accessory pegs are empty, most have the incorrect price, or no price at all. You don’t see the model you are looking for, so you begin the epic quest of finding a staff member. If you find one, you have to be quick, because chances are they have three different jobs to do all at once, and they are scurrying like crazy. You finally manage to snag someone, they look up the model you are looking for, they don’t have any. So you ask about the model that they do have, one that is similar to the one you want. They can’t tell you anything about it that you couldn’t find within 30 second on your smart phone. You say screw it, go home, and order it online. Bob’s Thing-a-ma-bobs gets one step closer to the grave.
Now, when I was a retail manager I had a saying, “don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.”
What I meant by that was, any of my staff could come to me to complain about a problem they were having, as long as they brought with them a few possible solutions to said problems. It insured that my staff weren't bitching for the sake of it, and it encouraged problem solving and critical thought.
So, I have to abide by my own rules here. I need to come up with a possible solution to the sorry state of retail. Given all the changes in the way people shop today, retail needs to adjust to stay relevant. They need to offer something that cannot be experienced with online shopping. Simply having the lowest possible price is not the answer. If you try to engage in a price war with a website you will lose, as Best Buy is going to find out soon enough since they started price matching websites. The brick and mortar experience needs to transform into the “premium” version of shopping. It needs to be great. Lots of selection, neat, tidy, clean stores with an abundance of well paid, well trained staff. If you talk to any retail executive today, or believe the commercials on the ol’ TeeVee, you’ll find the claim that their business is exactly that. They will beak about striving for excellence and all that crap. There is a colossal difference between talking the talk, and walking the walk, and I have yet to see too many businesses walk that walk, from the inside as a manager, or as a customer.
I will leave you with one great example of a business that “gets it.” I fully endorse this company for what it’s worth. That company is Memory Express. They sell technology, computer parts, TV’s, cameras, laptops, tablets, etc. Now you can get that kind of crap just about anywhere. Amazon, Newegg, and NCIX come to mind. In a way they are direct competitors, these websites all sell the same stuff Memory Express does, and usually for just a little bit cheaper. Here’s the thing, every time I walk out of Memory Express, I feel good, even if I didn’t get anything. I feel good because they do all the things I talked about, they walk the walk. The staff are plentiful and knowledgeable, not hurried or stressed, even though they are very busy. Everything is neat and orderly, and they actually have lots of stuff in stock. For that, I am perfectly willing to pay 5 extra bucks for a video card.
Obviously there is still a place in this world for businesses like Wal-mart, where it’s expected that corners are cut for the sake of lower prices. Employee treatment not withstanding, but if all you sell is non-essential, specialized, products, you’d better step your damn game up, or it’s just a matter of time…..old Yeller…..
Friday, 8 February 2013
I’m a mind reader you know. I know exactly what you are thinking right now, and it goes a little something like this.
“Oh for the love of Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s been two months since there has been a new post from this asshole. I though he had finally lost interest in polluting the internet with his insane rambling and gibberish.”
Well, I regret to inform you dear readers, that I have in fact, not given up on this blog. If you were to click on the link to my photography site, you will notice that it no longer goes anywhere. I did have to give that up, simple economics really. It was costing me $150.00 a year, and was recently upped to $250.00 a year.
After running the site for 3 years, I have made a total of $40.00 in sales. You don’t have to be a math wizard, (or mathemagician as they like to be called) to figure that one out. As for the blog itself, it’s not going anywhere, last year I wrote 35 posts at an average of 1000 words each. This year I regret to inform you that you will likely have to endure another 35,000 words, possibly more. So, as they say to inmates facing the death penalty, (according to movies) “may God have mercy on your soul.”
It’s been a wild couple of months, hence the lack of updates. I moved into a new place, I continue to grow sicker, and the medical powers that be still don’t seem to be taking me seriously. It’s seems that as long as I’m still on my feet, they don’t appear to give a damn about my health. I’ve also fallen into complete and total financial ruin. Don’t worry, it was self imposed and necessary. I am not ashamed, it was the right thing to do. As I posted on my facebook a few months ago, “Sometimes, if you want new growth, you have to burn down the old forest.”
I’m starting to see some saplings.
Enough of that shit. Let’s get to the point of this post. Here’s a though that has been rattling around in my so-called brain for a while now. It’s has to do with comparing ones self to the expected societal norms. As soon as you mention something like that, brace for a torrent of quips about being your own person, not caring what other people think, etc. etc. The truth of the matter is that everyone does it, if you claim that your never have, your are a liar, or deluding yourself. Either way, I hereby sentence you to 30 minutes of quiet introspection. May dog have mercy on your bowl.
Now, by commonly accepted standards, I could (should?) have a family by now, also a career, and my own home. Where does this metric come from? Well, some of it comes out of the societal ether, some of it comes from the influences in my life. No small influence is of course my father. Where was he at 35? Where am I right now? I can tell you they are a far cry from each other. I know that every one is different, I know that that different people have different priorities and different life experiences that shape them if different ways. I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that NOT having all these “normal” things, like children and a career have a negative connotation. I could technically have a teenager by now. Really? I look around my house, books, movies, video games, computer, consoles….It would be a like a teenager raising a teenager. I sure as hell don’t feel qualified for that sort of responsibly, nor do I desire it. I can’t even manage myself, let alone a mini-me.
I feel like I’m suffering from Peter Pan syndrome. My body has gotten older, but my mind didn’t follow suit. I am an adult, it’s easy to say that, but for me, it’s much harder to DO that, be an adult. I don’t feel like it. I can’t escape from that childhood feeling that adults have all the answers, and take care of everything. If I don’t, and I can’t, am I? Is being a grown-up a physical state? Or just a state of mind?
That’s a lot of questions. I know one thing, it’s all a matter of perspective. Way back in high school, all us teenagers were petty, overly emotion, insecure, and immature. We were all trying to figure ourselves out, who we were, who we are, who we will become. Years later, everyday you meet people who, are petty, overly emotional, insecure, and immature. I think even the most together people you ever meet have some sort of emotional train wreck they are trying to clean up, you simply cannot travel through life without packing some bags. How scary does that sound? A whole world full of people masquerading as responsible grown-ups. No offence to those of you who truly have all your shit together. You magnificent bastards you!
I know what I need to do. I need to shuffle away the expectations that I think people place on me. I need to be ok with the fact that I will not be living my life the way my dad has, or the way that the model of standardized society expects. There is no correct way to do it. You have to make your own life, I truly envy people who have got that figured out.
As for me, I will continue to struggle against the artificial insecurities, limitations, and hang-ups that I have placed on myself. Someday I hope to truly find my own path, and travel down it without compunction. I can’t feel guilty for being who I am. If I can’t manage that, then blog have mercy on my goal.