Monthly Archives: November 2007

have you ever seen… a portal?

Remember you have to imagine the title of this post in a terrifying Frank whisper.

running manVulvic software, producers of the quiveringly good Half Life series have quietly spunked forth a low-price game called Portal. I am here to wax lovingly into your ear how exquisitely lustrous this gemalicious prism of a game really is.

Think of The Running Man. Think Cube. Think dark thoughts of being trapped in the belly of a horrible machine. That’s the atmosphere – with a pit-black streak of humour, like clowns whispering into your ears in the dark.

My initial impressions – that Portal was a mere puzzle game, or a technical demo with stilettos on – were dead wrong. It’s a genuinely new take on the FPS genre – minus the S. You learn innovative in-game skills. It’s immersive and dreamlike. The narrative is such that you feel motivated to defeat the system that holds you captive.

The difficulty curve is perfectly crafted – the in-game director’s commentary illuminates how much playtesting went on. Finally, the ending is both satisfying and unlike any ending you’ve seen before. All in all it’s just an outstanding game.

portalIf you haven’t got access to a decent PC you can play a flash ‘tribute’ version in the mean time, polished to a tasty sheen.

Moving onto a different topic, near the end of Portal there’s a widget you pick up which is the embodiment of anger, the Anger Sphere. It gabbles and shrieks incoherently. In a stroke of genius they cast one of my heroes Mike Patton for the relevant vocals. Like an out-take from his near-inconsumable album Adult Themes for Voice.

And – fellow Pattonites – the boy must currently be the monkey’s bananas as the game that introduced the joy of swinging about, Bionic Commando is being remade with MP voicing the commando himself.

While we’re talking games, old school shmuppers and fans of huge boss fights are going to appreciate the freeware games Warning Forever, Fraxy, and Battleships Forever (in that order).

In other geek news I finally have GarageBand 08 sorted out on my rejuvenated, Leopard-flavoured Mac (thanks Rob!) so the possibilities for horrendously time-expensive but zany posts have been opened up.

new words, new numbers

To celebrate the start of a glorious new week – and feel like I’ve achieved something – I finished up something new for the joy of damage.

In other news I got my de facto national identification number today. Pain in the arse doing anything without it (like getting a decent phone).

Security is weird here. You can commit credit card fraud all day and no one will notice. On the other hand, people are constantly on guard against identity theft. Address labels must be stripped from rubbish garbage. Delivery notes from the Royal Mail US Postal Service (USPS) don’t mention your name.

Talking of garbage, NYC is a super-progressive recycling city – It’s The Law. After the marathon Ikea session I spent a solid forty-five minutes jumping on cardboard boxes and tying them into anally tight bundles with twine.

I’m not sure that sounds right.

At least I now have a kettle, so could recover in quintessentially British fashion by consuming pints of tea.

day five

planeRight. I’m getting a handle on it now. I’d completely forgotten how stressful moving can be.

The trip over was fine. Leaving the ground at Heathrow did feel like a kind of goodbye; one-way trips generally I suppose. The take-off tilt of the runway felt itself a milestone, a minor life marker.

Then whiled away the 7.5 hours watching the Simpsons Movie and just enjoying that great limbo of travel. Near landing, the dense starfield, the blazing multiplicity of city lights; the Empire State with a green band and red crest.

First few days were patchy getting the basics sorted. Lots of time spent in physical and telephone queues. My apartment is looking potentially good, apart from occasional cucarachas. I say “potentially” as it’s totally bereft of furniture or even a bed. So uninhabitable until I get transport to Ikea – crashing at Caitlin & Regine’s for now.

The area definitely seems cool. Picking up the apartment keys for the first time, I bumped into my new neighbour Ethan Hawke strolling along in a tasteful bunnet, walking his dog.

List of New York Things

1. Your apartment building fell from a portal into the past

Your building was thrown up somewhere between 1910-1920, and it shows.

You have literally no control over room heating or hot water. The radiator will come on and off at the whim of the building owner.

Washing machines are prohibited – hence why the Friends muppets did their laundry in the basement.

2. Everything will kill you

No one drinks directly from cans or bottles. You must at least use a straw. The horror-stricken explanation is that rats frequent the storage places and infect the outward surfaces of everything in their scheme to overthrow us.

Medicine is completely commercialised and consumerised. Hence advertising will try to convince you that you’re very ill and in need of products. THAT SPOT ON YOUR TONGUE COULD BE ORAL CANCER.

3. Especially the food

Every morning I’ve been getting a cawfee and croissant from a street vendor on Park Avenue. The croissant is as big as your heid.

Then in Brooklyn I experienced the heart-stopping black-american tradition of chicken and waffles. With your sane plate of chicken and dough, you are handed a squeezy bottle of warm, melted butter. You incredulously scoosh the pale yellow stuff all over your waffles and try not to gag. Tastes: extremely calorific. Genuinely nauseating afterwards. I’m totally going back.

4. But some tech is ahead of Europe

If you can find a fancy Chase bank machine it will remember your preferences. WOW BOB WOW

thanks5. Talking to people

You cannot fail to notice the constant, verbose, distinctly American politeness.

Every greeting has a how-are-you, every act has a thank-you, every thank you has a you’re-welcome, every goodbye has a my-name-is, great-talking-to-you and have-a-nice-day.

From an engineering point of view the ratio of conversational data to protocol overhead is appalling, but you get a superficial glow from everyone being so damn nice to you. On the other hand it’s very difficult to go around in a dream with your chat module switched off – you need to communicate with people for the simplest transaction.

the importance of keeping your shit together

cloudI am from Arbroath, Angus. Tomorrow I move to New York.

In case you were wondering, let me tell you – the whole Moving To An Exciting New Place isn’t all fucking lovely biscuits, as one might suppose.

It’s been sixteen months since the turning point of being excited about moving somewhere else. That principle, that bright optimistic potential of displacement and cultural immersion remains; but circumstances conspire to jizz in the chips.

First and constantly foremost is that my grandparents are amazingly unwell. This is upsetting for everyone involved. I have to be able to return home at short notice. Bonds within the family are stretched, and there is friction. Relationships to be managed.
Outside of the family, actual adult relationship relationships demonstrate their enduring capacity for generating hurt.
For mundane stresses, I am moving house. More than that, I am moving country and continent. And currency. And systems of taxation and healthcare. I am working just as hard as ever. With vacation time saved to see family at Christmas. With a pay cut due to different salary conventions in NYC, and a new flat-full of furniture to buy. Just in time for the January tax return lottery that I got stung with last year.

Boo fucking hoo, I know. Nevertheless, the net effect is that the last few weeks have been numb and introverted; a blank-faced execution of complex To Do’s and a shocking demotivation at work. No anticipation at all. Most days I just want to go to sleep and forget about everything.

For now I am working hard just to keep my shit together. I’m sure some kind of fun stuff will follow eventually. I will let you know.