Balloon

While I was living at Des’, my other flatmate, Rami, had a kids-style birthday party, with balloons and streamers and the general paraphernalia of youthful celebration. Weeks if not months after that event, I found one of those balloons, somehow still miraculously inflated. I was so shocked by the fact this thing hadn’t lost air in the time since the party, I kept it.

When it came time to move out of Des’, the balloon was still inflated, so for some reason I brought it with me to Bath. I put it on top of the wardrobe and almost entirely out of my mind, apart from the times when I’d accidentally bring it down alongside something else. I lived in that room for over 15 months, and that balloon didn’t deflate.

Today I popped it.

I don’t want to say the balloon was symbolic, because that would be nonsense. But it is at least representative of a particular time in my life. One where I lived with people because of convenience and not desire. Today that time officially came to an end, as I handed over the keys to Flat 1, 16 Walcot Parade. It wasn’t all bad – it was cheap, and warm, and had good internet, and was close enough to work for a pleasant walk in every day – but I’m not sure you could pay me to move back in there now.

Because ignoring my distaste for some of my housemates, living with strangers just sucks. And this weekend, I’ll officially move in with Christina, and hopefully never have to compromise on the people I spend the most time in the vicinity of ever again.

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16 Vernon Park

I’ve been thinking recently about starting this up again. Not on a daily basis, but more than the three (3) times I’ve managed in the 300 or so days that have already passed this year. A few writing ideas have flittered across my consciousness recently, and today feels as good a day as any to actually commit to.

This weekend just gone will have marked the first few pages in the next chapter of my life. I’m sitting in bed, alone, but under Christina’s duvet, surrounded by the amalgamation of two lives. Her teddy, Chi-woo, sits on my bedside table, while my quilt nestles in among some of her bedclothes. It’s something I’ve waited for for months.

This weekend has seen us move into our new house, the titular 16 Vernon Park. It’s a two-bed mid-terrace house in Oldfield Park, a stone’s throw from the much more impressive Victoria Park and, conveniently, Christina’s new office. It already feels like my home. Our living/dining room is set up brilliantly, and we’re already vying for wall space for posters and paintings. The bedrooms are both in a bit of a state, but having lugged two sets of belongings in and out of Rory’s van, I’m too tired to do anything about it now.

Our move-in is somewhat disrupted. The let started on Monday, but I couldn’t pick up the keys until Friday. Christina and family came down this weekend, but she’s gone back to work this week, so I’m here by myself with plenty of annual leave to use up. She’ll move in properly on Sunday, at which point we’ll have a day and a half here before I have to go to Atlanta. It’s safe to say things haven’t quite come together as well as we might have liked, but I think that’s ok.

As a side note, it is quite weird being here by myself. I don’t really people are designed to be in houses by themselves, given how we’re raised for so long – I’ve gone from house full of people to house full of people for the last 23 years, with very few times in between. I think the only notable exception is when I first moved into Russell Terrace and was there by myself for a few days, and I’m feeling some pretty significant deja vu for that time right now, as I potter around the empty house, almost trying not to be noticed as I adjust things to just how I’d like them.

I don’t really know what happens now. Neither of us has ever lived with a partner, and it still feels not so much like something that’s happening too quickly, but definitely something that’s sudden, a little unexpected. Had we been together a few months longer, this moment might have come a year and a half ago. As it is, we’ll celebrate two years together just three weeks after Christina’s first ‘official’ day here. I’m sure there’ll be a lot to adjust to, but I think there’ll be a lot to celebrate – it’s so difficult for us to just chill out in one another’s company for any lengthy period of time. Any time we have spent together up to this point has been limited, and that means you feel like you have to use it. From now, there’ll be so many extra hours to enjoy one another’s company in, to relax and have our own space and not have to try as hard to be seen to be doing something with every moment we get. I’ve had a girlfriend for a long time – and I’m lucky that Christina is my best friend – but now I think I have a partner instead.

E3

After what has been a very long week, E3 is over.and while it’s been a week of very long days and very late nights, it’s been incredibly exciting, re-igniting a passion for new games that, if I’m honest, I haven’t really felt in a while.

That’s largely my own fault. LoL, Rocket League, Hearthstone, PUBG, Fortnite, and CSGO have all dominated much of what I’ve played over the past few years, and while there are plenty of other great games that I’ve played too, many of them have fallen by the wayside. Partly, that’s down to cost, but a lot of it comes down to time, and my preference to play games with Dan and Waleed rather than playing them on my own.

But now we know what Fallout 76 is, and where Forza Horizon 4 is set, and what you can do in Cyberpunk, and that a new Elder Scrolls game is being made. There’s plenty more than that, of course (Sekiro, Hitman, and Just Cause 4 have all somehow not ended up on my list), but even just those seven games are a cross-section of the things I’m excited to see over the next few months (or years).

There were some frustrating things about the way we dealt with E3 as a company, but I won’t dwell on the here. Instead, it’s nicer to recognise the massive amount of hard work that we put in over the last week, and to focus on the fact that it paid off. I’m going to sleep for a good chunk of the weekend now, but the fact that I need to is down at least in part to how much fun I had covering my first proper E3.

Friendships

At uni, friendships were so easy, such a passive part of the experience, that I was in a position to turn social interaction with new people down when I felt like it would encroach on the time I was spending with my current friends. That was arrogant and pretty rude, obviously, but more importantly, I’ve realised it’s something that I couldn’t ever get away with now.

Because now, friendships are harder to form and harder to keep. That’s a noted part of getting older, of course, but it’s also something that’s a little difficult to come to terms with for someone who is so keen to have friends around, and so unwilling to be alone. I’m pretty sure I can count the number of weekends I’ve spent alone in Bath on the fingers of one hand, even after what’s rapidly approaching a full year here.

Which makes it all the more frustrating when you go out to spend that time with someone and it’s not rewarding. A couple of trips to London have proved, if not entirely unpleasant, not things I’m keen to repeat in their entirety, for example, while others have been very nice. On the other side of the coin, my trip to Coventry the other week was lovely; it’s nice to go somewhere and feel as instantly comfortable as I do there, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone in a few weeks’ time.

I feel now that while it’s taken a long time for groups at work to come together, like I am getting there. I’m doing more around work, I’m feeling more comfortable actually asking if people are hanging out. I could very much still benefit from going out and making actual new friends, but there’s still time for that.

There was no real point to this, they’re just thoughts I’ve had bouncing round my head. If nothing else, it’s just a brief reflection on feeling more like I belong win my haphazard groups.

Superhot: Mind Control Delete

Superhot is one of my favourite games. I swept the original game in one sitting on a friend’s PC back in 2016. When it became available on Twitch I eagerly downloaded it, played through it again and investigated some of the bonus features – specific runs and the endless mode. I found it just as much fun as before, still capable of offering that feeling of being the ridiculously powerful main character in an action film.

Yesterday, it was announced that a new team were working on something called Superhot JP, a Japanese-themed version of the game with settings from across Japanese culture. Within that story, I learned that an early-access offering named Superhot: Mind Control Delete existed. I bought it straight away.

The game works under much the same premise as its predecessor. It’s a first-person shooter in which time moves incredibly slowly, unless you’re performing an action – firing a gun, moving, or picking something up, for example. Your enemies are waves of polygonal red men, who when shot explode in a shower of light and scarlet fragments. But while Superhot relied heavily on small spaces and well-thought out scenarios, SMCD changes the formula. Not by enough to ruin the experience completely, of course, but enough to leave a sour taste.

SCMD takes the formula and makes it hard. While Superhot was quite difficult at times, its complexity stems from the need to work out the optimal way through a situation. Often, you’re crammed into a tight space with the odds desperately stacked against you, and every movement counts as you try to battle your way out. But in SCMD, levels are opened up, and instead of a tight corridor or single elevator, what you end up with are sprawling maps populated by dozens of enemies. The result is that taking damage – rather than being part of the deadly trial-and-error process by which anyone completed Superhot the first time around, feels trivial.

That effect is heightened by the fact that it’s very easy to play through SCMD with game-breaking powerups. Playing as one character, you start with three ‘lives’, a feat which shatters the way you’re forced to confront the level in the first place. You’re also given the option to start the game with a pistol, and throwable objects almost literally litter every single environment. What that creates is a game that feels more like a generic shooter than a unique experience – Superhot relied on problem-solving in a way that no other shooter I’ve ever played has done, and yet there’s absolutely no sense of that in SCMD.

There were aspects of the game I liked quite a lot; New throwable weapons including shuriken, throwing knives and even CDs added some flair that even the original game didn’t offer; Towards the late-game, several enemies had weak points – chinks in otherwise impenetrable armour that you did have to work around more intelligently than just bludgeoning or shooting them; ‘Mines’ on floors, walls, and ceilings could be shot out to send a blast of debris through the room. But while the essence of Superhot has been captured by this spin-off, the structure of its levels and the very existence of its powerup smacks of a development team who have failed to capture what made the first game so special.

New Year’s Eve

Last year, I set myself the goal of writing something every day during 2017. Tonight is the last day of 2017, and I have written 357 entries on this blog. To the best of my knowledge, I only missed out on 8 days worth of writing, and 4 of those were when I was in Poland, so I’m pretty pleased with myself.

My other resolution was to get something published in PC Gamer. Obviously I didn’t do that, but I did get a job at a rival site, so I figure that takes precedent. Largely, I would say that, based on the metrics I set this time last year, this year was broadly a success.

But it was a success for more than just that reason. I got my new job, established myself (mostly) in Bath, built on a lovely new relationship, and have generally had a better year than I thought I was going to. Because, to be quite honest, I thought that 2017 was going to be a disaster. I was moving to Coventry without a plan, in a weird place with my friends, with no job, knowing that I didn’t really want to be there. That’s not how I ended up, of course, but the beginning of this year was still a little bit traumatic, especially when you consider the disaster that was my internship back in January.

I hope I won’t stop writing for myself next year, but will carry on doing it for reviews and other days I deem important to my life, because I’ve enjoyed having something to look back on. For the rest of the year, my ‘resolutions’ are this: I want to move in with Christina, I want to do more creative stuff, and I want to cut back on the animal products I eat. For the most part, those are either vague or a little bit beyond my control, but either way, I’m looking forward to 2018 a lot more than I was 2017.

New Friends

One time in second year, I was sat towards the edge of a circle in Kelsey’s, sandwiched between Megan and a girl called Becky. Becky was a friend of a friend who I’d never met before, and the rest of the circle was filled with my entire social group. In what was an undeniably rude move, I basically ignored Becky, who seemed to want to talk to me, in favour of everyone else, maintaining the logic that I had enough friends at this point that I didn’t need to get to know anyone new. There were a lot of people I knew in Kelsey’s that night.

Earlier today, I was talking to Oscar and his friends Reece and Phil about tomorrow, and how the party will be filled with all these people that I will, in all likelihood, never see again. With that in mind, I don’t see that there’s much point in really getting to know them in favour of spending time with Oscar, Christina, Beth, and the other two. These are people who I actually want to spend time with, so spending hours chatting to people who are destined to remain strangers seems largely pointless.

That might be short-sighted and anti-social, and I imagine had I been in Becky’s situation I would have been very pissed off – as I said, this was undeniably rude and I wouldn’t say I’m proud of it. Either way, I’m pretty happy to stick to my guns on this one, because however nice a chat I have with people tomorrow, they’ll never be more than  ‘people I met at parties’, while there are other, longer-term relationships that I’ll have the chance to build on.

Meta

It’s been a long times since I’ve been this stuck for something to say. Even if it’s just a few short and sweet sentences, I’ve been able to get something down before bed pretty comfortably for the last few weeks, as far as I can remember. But tonight I am stuck.

Logan would like me to write about him, but I fear that I’ll say something he deems offensive and never be fully forgiven. That said, I will at least concede that he is not always a total shitebag and that it’s been nice to have some chats with him while I’ve been home.

I’ve watch two Harry Potter films over the last two days, and while I don’t want to review them, I feel like I could say something about the franchise as a whole. Given that there are six other, extremely long films in that franchise (and that I’ve already reviewed at least two of them), and that I haven’t read the books in years, that also seems like something that will inevitably be either very long or tediously short.

There was even the possibility of writing something about leaving tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure I’ve done the ‘I don’t want to get on a train I want to be warm and comfy in [insert place here] forever’ post at least a few times already, and I have even less to say than normal, given that this time I’m going to a party.

So I’m going to cheat and say that this is counts, because it’s three compressed posts in one and I haven’t done something this obnoxiously meta for a while.

Hearthstone

Of all the game’s I’ve played this year, Hearthstone is maybe the one I’ve written about the least. It’s something of a weird combination between ‘game I’ve played often’ and ‘game I don’t think about’. But now, with a 2GB laptop that can basically only play this game, I’ve spent some proper time with it for the first time in a while.

That time has been happily bolstered by two factors. The first is Dungeon Run, which is an excellent casual crossover of all the things that Hearthstone does very well. I’ve written about that already, however, so I’m not digging into it any more. The second is my new Hunter deck, which is maybe one of the only times I’ve been able to conjure what feels like a good, strong, well-conceived deck in my time playing.

I put Hearthstone down for several months earlier this year, because it failed to grasp my attention in a meaningful way. Most of my time playing it turned it into a timesink, where’d I basically do my quests and use the rewards to buy stuff for no reason other than the game told me to do so. But with a few choice cards happily discovered in the most recent expansion, I’ve made something that actually works. I’m winning games because of the cards I put together. It’s nice.

It is, however, indicative of the problems rampant within any game of its kind. I’m winning because I have a certain collection of cards, not because I’m good at the game, as I might be in League of Legends. I’m not good, but you get the picture. I have those cards because I (mostly) got lucky, but if I wanted to get them, I would probably have to pay money or resources to get hold of them. Blizzard somehow seems to have ducked around the vast majority of the lootbox/pay-to-win debate, despite the fact that Hearthstone is, for the most part, one of the most egregious examples of both of those concepts in all of gaming. For some reason, that’s completely accepted in the mainstream in this game, because the pedigree that spawned it stems from real-life games, like Magic: The Gathering.  It’s a confusing double-standard, but it’s not one I want to unpick here.

The nicer stuff about Hearthstone, however, is how good it looks. The UI is fantastic, and each card is crafted in a way that allows you to immediately understand what’s going on, while still giving every one a genuine identity in just a few lines of dialogue. It’s also hugely satisfying to smash cards together, particularly when you’ve boosted something up to way beyond what the designers expected of it, at which point the entire board resonates with the impact of your improbably behemoth.

To be quite honest, it’s tricky to sum a game that I’m still quite inexperienced at up in a post like this. It’s also one of those games that was never intended to be reviewed, which adds to the difficulty I’m facing. To be quite honest, I’m also watching a stand-up routine while I’m writing this, happily rounding out the trifecta of problems I’m having wrapping this up. Hearthstone is a satisfying surface experience, but while there’s so much to it, you can honestly only get so far before the meta crushes you out. There’s enough to be getting on with between expansions, but I know that my current favoured deck will only ever get me to a certain point for a certain amount of time. It’s fun to kill some time in and I’m glad I’m doing well at it, but it’s the kind of game that I don’t know that I’ll ever really care about. I say this, but then I just spent 600 words writing about it, so who knows.

The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi cements a move towards a new kind of Star Wars film that began with Rogue One. It’s a move that understands that what worked for the original trilogy was the mysticism of a galaxy far, far away. While the prequel trilogy focused on the tragedy of one man, the success of the originals stemmed from their depiction of a people about to be crushed beneath the jackboot of a regime about to gain absolute power. The Last Jedi returns to those ideas, and while it flounders, it’s a beautifully-imagined, refreshingly-different take on what Star Wars can be.

There are things The Last Jedi does that are not wrong, but feel quite strange. The most obvious, and sometimes jarring, is the humour. In a way that the series has never tried to be before, The Last Jedi is funny. Smart-ass flyboy quips seen from Obi-Wan or Han return with Poe, but there’s also slapstick, fan service, parody. There are actual jokes, moments played for laughs that otherwise would have been played straight, and might have seen John Boyega or Daisy Ridley consigned to the same Hollywood grave as Hayden Christiansen. These moments, for the most part, do not feel very Star Wars, but they are actually funny, and illicited genuine laughs from the audience each time I saw them.

There are also some flaws with the story-telling. Never has plot armour felt so thick as in a scene when the entire main cast are fleeing a cannon bombardment from the First Order. After that, some helpful Deus Ex Machina kicks in to make sure everyone is in the same place at the same time, despite spending most of the film deliberately apart. A wonky performance from Daisy Ridley seemed in part due to a desire to portray her as the pious Jedi that clogged up some of the sequels. Her early scenes needed some significant course-correction, but thankfully she seemed to settle into her role more later on.

A lot of The Last Jedi struggles because it spreads its wings extremely far across the galaxy, and despite its nearly 2.5 hour running time, it doesn’t quite have enough time to develop its three major arcs as much as it might have liked. After a magnificent opening sequence, Poe remains aboard a fleeing rebel transport vessel, while Finn and Rose head to the capitalist Utopia of Canto Bight to find The Master Codebreaker. While all that’s going on, Rey is learning about the Jedi from Luke on a remote island.

Poe’s story tries to tell an escape story, but the central thrust of it is that while the Rebels can’t run away, the First Order can’t catch them up. They can’t be destroyed unless they run out of fuel, which would always have been a pretty lousy way to wrap the story up, so Poe seems in little danger, and I feel more could have been done to add to the tactical intensity of his story. While Finn and Rose have a cool plan, they’re nearly constantly sidetracked, meaning they don’t succeed in hitting the checklist style of Rogue One, but nor do they ever really settle on the anti-Order, pro-resistance (and anti-capitalism) message they set out on. Rey’s scenes with Luke mostly revolve around him trying to avoid teaching her anything, and there’s none of the impact of the latter’s training scenes on Dagobah. Instead, we’re supposed to accept that she just sort of knows how all this works. Other than finding a way to bring Luke back into the story, you have to wonder what he really adds here. He’s no Yoda or Obi-Wan – instead, he simply has to ride the wave of the fact that he’s the Luke Skywalker, and we have to accept that that’s why we have to care.

When it all comes back together though, it’s a masterpiece. Much like Rogue One (which I hope not to mention again), the fumbles of the first half are entirely forgiven by the visual mastery of the second. For what must be an hour or more, The Last Jedi throws some simply incredible moments at you. Many of these were so stylish, so brilliantly-realised a portrayal of what Star Wars can be, that they caused the audience at my first screening to literally burst into spontaneous applause. A lengthy scene on Snoke’s ship between Rey and Kylo Ren reaches its climax with a moment of instantaneous brilliance. The red earth beneath the salt plains surrounding a rebel base are used masterfully throughout the course of an entire battle. An experiment with hyperspeed concludes with what may be one of the best shots I’ve ever seen on the big screen. The Last Jedi is the best-looking Star Wars film there’s ever been by an absolute mile, and that’s what I mean when I refer to the mysticism at the heart of the series. A New Hope gave so much on this front that the prequels never did, and while The Force Awakens moved in the right direction, The Last Jedi captures the space epic like nothing I’ve ever seen, despite the best efforts of the prequels.

It’s a film that conjures more questions that answers, but as the mid-point of a trilogy that’s probably ok. There’s some stuff to work on too – too long was spent on things that, especially on a second showing, felt relevant but overstretched, and while the new intergalactic brat pack do well, it’s a shame we don’t see them offered more power; many of the film’s greatest moments stem from the organisations built around them, not the characters themselves. But while The Last Jedi feels not quite right, it’s a brilliant set of experiments, and while they do so with varying degrees of success, each one largely comes off. After the relative safety of The Force Awakens and the surprise success of Rogue One, it’s exactly what the series needed, and I can only hope for more with Episode IX.