Summer is here!

Yay! At long last the dreary weather of the past few months has turned into sparkling sunshine, with barely any clouds in view. Certainly not perfect for doing exams, but when you’re all done… ahem… I mean mostly done, it’s downright gorgeous. Here are a couple pictures from one of my local walkabouts.

Is there a little angel in this demon?

Hey people, I’ve just returned from being dragged along to see Angels & Demons, the brand new film based on the book of the same name, by Dan Brown. The Pope has passed away, and in the wake of their mourning the Cardinals must elect a successor. But trouble strikes when the four favourites – known as the ‘Preferiti’ – to take up the position are kidnapped by the Church’s ancient adversary, the Illuminati. Meanwhile, an experimental and dangerous piece of antimatter is stolen from a test facility – the purpose: to exact retribution on the Church for its misdeeds against the scientific community. With the Vatican in peril it isn’t long before Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called in to discover the Church’s mysterious attackers and rescue the captured Preferiti.

Having not read any of Mr Brown’s controversial books I did fear that seeing this film may dampen my appreciation for the books. Essentially a mystery movie, I found the plot to be rather slow in places. Hi-calibre action isn’t needed as much in a film such as this where the intricacy of its narrative keeps you hooked, but I found myself not particularly caring about the characters. There’s an uplifting and divine-like climax that, naturally, leads into a cunning denouement. The thing is, with all the notoriety about the books, and with a title like ‘Angels & Demons’, I really expected the plot to have a deeper impact than it did. I would have preferred it to have left a bad taste in my mouth (like say, Se7en) if it portrayed something meaningful about the relationship between religion and science, rather than the storybook ending it sadly contains. Plus, it felt like there were too many cuts and broken conversations. A three hour film crammed together like poorly stitched limbs.

Performances were mediocre at best. Hanks’ dry, understatement to almost all of his lines wore thin… very quickly. Excluding Ewan McGregor’s character, many of the other characters, including the lead female who I still can’t recall, were terribly forgettable. An interesting and no doubt thought provoking film for some. Personally, I like my professors to be a little more ‘adventurous’ in their methods of deduction and my abstruse religious mysteries to have a lot more weight. I may still try the book, but something tells me all I’ll uncover is demons.

Fanboy Wars

Contrary to the title this is not, in fact, a blog about anonymous internet users flaming and trolling each other back and forth. Nay. The point I wish to raise today is unfortunately a pessimistic one (don’t worry, I don’t intend on writing any more lexical rants if I can help it). Using my knowledge of the English language, a bit of personal experience and the most passionate argument I can conjure at this moment, I shall explain precisely why I cannot stand to use, read or speak the term ‘fanboy’.

My A Level English teacher once told me something along the lines of “whenever an Englishman opens his mouth he offends another countryman”. The point she was trying to illustrate was, no matter where you are in the world, man, women or child, your use of language will be valued less by someone else. Perhaps you aren’t pronouncing the infections the same way as your neighbour or your accent differs to that of your schoolmates. Of course, this is natural. Everyone is different in life and thanks goodness we are. I like to think I’m a very open person when it comes to respecting others languages, cultures and beliefs. However, when it comes to the term I am discuss in this post, and the deluge of negative connotations attached to it I cannot support, nor encourage others to use it.

I’ve no knowledge where the word may have originally come from, but it soon seeded itself in the everyday lexis of regular internet users and eventually into general usage in major publications and dictionaries (I’m no conservative, but god forbid they put in the OED). Wikipedia, as the ephemeral source for millions of topics these days, naturally has a definition, which at the time of publishing reads: ‘Fanboy is a term used to describe any man who is devoted to a single subject in an emotional or fanatical manner, or to a single point of view within that subject, often to the point where it is considered an obsession’. There’s even been a film for goodness sake.

For the most part it has been used in, and about, what is commonly seen as ‘geek culture’ – comic books, anime and, of course, video games. Back in late 2004 I started writing on video games-related forum or two. After immersing myself into the atmosphere of the cyber environment I found it more than a little addicting. Between GameSpot’s user badges (essentially a rewards system), blogs and the forums I regularly browsed, I was losing plenty sleep becoming a web-feeding zombie. Thankfully I am older and a little wiser now too. Nowadays I’m more of a silent shadow. Anyway, when browsing any forum online it won’t take long before you spot a topic or post you or somebody else disagrees with. The problem is, online, people just don’t know when to quit. Insults flying back and forth, pointless HTML links to rude or violent images, death threats, Caps Lock attacks, whole groups of people dissing one and other – it’s chaos! And somewhere amid all this hate the term ‘fanboy’ appeared. A convenient and derogatory term to label online adversaries.

The thing is, I’m an avid fan of quite a few ‘material’ things and I am male, though, I would not refer to myself as a ‘fanboy’, purely as its definition has been so radically skewed. If I present a logical opinion on something, with heart where necessary, I don’t appreciate my views being thrown back in my face with this feeble excuse of a lexical come back. I am also ready to listen to anyone who can do the same. The very reason I us the internet less for socialising these days is because it has become a breeding ground for antisocial groups and individuals inept of truth or reason – you can’t even see their real identity. In western culture at least, ‘Otaku’ has fair less negative sigma. Terms such has ‘addict’, ‘brand loyalty’ ‘obsession’ are little revered, nevertheless, why are they automatically attached the definition of fan?

Moreover, my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (sixth edition – not contacting the full etymology of words) has a definition of ‘fan’ which reads: ‘a person who supports or has great enthusiasm for a sport, celebrity, etc’. Under the second definition for ‘fanatic’ it reads: ‘a person with an extreme enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby’. Nowhere in those definitions do I get the sense that being a ‘fan’ means you are ‘unable to stop thinking about’ that object/person, or that you are physically and mentally devoted to something/someone to the point of risking lives. Some may consider my love of Gorillaz to be ‘unhealthy’, yet they have no knowledge of the personal and social connotations and thoughts it has to me. A brand new studio album from the band is about the only things I may consider sleeping out for. Would I threaten someone’s life, resort to physical violence to defend the bands image or steal? No. I’m not a football hooligan and I don’t go around burning Apple Macs the moment I see them, so, why is my level of fandom considered dangerous?

Beyond this there is also the fact that ‘fanboy’, as a colloquial term, is massively sexist. While some may spit a ‘fangirl’ every once in a blue moon the former is commonly seen as an all encompassing norm. Video games are still in their infancy and I for one would like many more women to embrace them in the same way they do film and music. The idiocy of BBC Radio 1’s DJs during their first-ever gaming weekend has only sharpened my resolve that mainstream media still haven’t grownup and accepted video games as culture. Why, then, do so many specialist games journalists tagalong with the informal stupidity of their audiences? Personally I think it only hurts the image of the industry. Most of the games that women enjoy, such as SingStar and The Sims, are relegated to the status of ‘casual’ or ‘girly’ games by many men, so why should women feel inclined to engage in the rest of the testosterone-saturated industry if they feel they are not welcome?

From what I’ve said so far I hope it is abundantly clear that I absolutely despise the word ‘fanboy’ and wish to banish it forever more! I certainly won’t use it of my own accord in any journalism articles, unless I am specifically referring to its cultural usage. It is foolish, bland, uncouth, sexist, demoralising, obnoxious, cowardly, selfish, discriminating and demonic, in my opinion. I may be ‘fanatical’ about a lot of things, but I’ve also got morals and competence when it comes to my native language.

Seeking ‘novel’ entertainment

Leisure time is scarce for many of us nowadays. If there’s one past time that relaxes and satisfies me in equal amounts after a long day it’s reading a good book. No TV, no loud music and no constant hum from my laptop. Just me, a literary work and my imagination. Bliss. Nevertheless, with all the writing, game playing and fact-related reading I’m doing these days, my reading list has been given far less attention than I had hoped to give it at the start of this year.

How fortunate then that books, unlike battery-depended portable devices, are immediately accessible. Whether I’m travelling around Nottingham, stopping off for lunch or relaxing in my not-so-comfy bed, I’ve always got a book to hand; ready to get me through the slow parts of the day. Tales of adventure, espionage, science-fiction & fantasy, local stories, myths & legends, humour, crime, horror and even romance.

Though I don’t dabble as much as I’d like these days, I’ve recently digested a few books, which certainly helps keep my expectations high for storytelling in other media. On the teen & older fiction side there’s Necropolis, Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox and Superior Saturday. Some people – probably the ilk who feel smug about buying the adult editions of Harry Potter, when the normal editions are exactly the same – may consider me a little old for these books, but when I’ve been reading the work of these authors since primary school I most certainly shall read their newest works. Besides, some of their sagas still haven’t concluded yet, so I must see them through to the end.

About a month or so ago I finished Anthony Horowitz’s, The Killing Joke. Being one of the few adult books he’s written, I was unsure what to expect at first. All my doubts were soon put aside when his signature style of crisp characters, a motivating plot and intelligent humour shone through once again. There are even a few subtle jokes and references that will have anyone with a basic knowledge of theatre history cracking a broad smile. Crafting such brilliant novels time after time, he is definitely my favourite author.

The Silver Sword, a book recommended to me by my mother more than ten years ago, was another touching and reflective read. And just last week I finally closed Halo: The Cole Protocol – beyond the entertainment factor my reasons for reading it will become clear in a series of future posts that are coming soon. A slick first-half made me think I was in for a real treat when I got to the finale. Shame the plot tied itself up a little too neatly and avoided what could have been a climate finish. On the plus side the author did a great job of make the Covenant more than just ugly looking aliens, adding more weight to their history and dogmatic beliefs. On the flip side, there is a point where some of the military personalities become monotonous – a subtext of army recruitment and what it means to serve ones country is heavily embedded. OK, but not the best game-to-novel adaption I’ve read.

In the coming weeks I hope to fill you in regularly on what I’m reading, offer an opinion and give a few recommendations while I’m at it. At present I’m stumbling my way through one of the most taboo-ridden books I’ve ever come across. More on this criminal caper shortly.

Confessions of a Collector: Press Kits

If there’s anything that really gets under the skin of a collector it’s not being able to get hold of their most prized items. If you’re missing that single shiny out of a near-complete trading deck or a special edition magazine that’s now out of print. I, myself, am currently hunting for a few rare video games and I am, of course, a fanatic for Gorillaz merchandise – almost to the point of kleptomania!

For video game buffs the real big prize is ‘press kits’. Yes, people, press kits! The intangible torment of millions. Lavish game art printed on gorgeous (but relatively cheap) duplex card, prep-game information and character back-stories, the refreshing cool of plain white review discs (that even say ‘Promo Only – Not for resale’ on them), the press discs full of game assets and all the other stickers, patches and swag that’ll fit into laptop-sized boxes. *Drool* If I could only hold them in my hands… But, what makes peoples’ eyes glaze over for these illusive promotional items, anyway?

Just like half the limited edition games I’ve bought over the years, a press kit would only be looked at for a day or two and then unceremoniously shoved in the cupboard to gather dust and slowly be forgotten. The things is, almost without fail someone, somewhere is always ready to folk out hundreds and hundreds of pounds on these paperweight-collectables – Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, Heavenly Sword, MGS4, Resistance 2, Street Fighter IV, MotorStorm Pacific Rift, Killzone 2, the list goes on.

Balancing what little disposable income I have these days has made me rethink purchases I would otherwise regret, and unfortunately press-kit-pie and a side of chips isn’t very filling. So, why is it that when I see some of these press kits being flogged on eBay (by unscrupulous insiders hoping to make a quick fan-preying profit) my collector-sense starts tingling? That’s just what happened this week in the case of the inFamous press kit.

Designed in the style of a comic book to fit the game’s superhero-inspired theme, Sucker Punch, the team behind the game, is no stranger to the world of comics. They created two prologue comics for their previous PS2 hero, Sly Cooper, which were both brilliantly realised pieces of art with engaging stories to boot. Though, I’ve heard rumblings of a full inFamous graphic novel, the chance to get my hands on the UK press kit would be a total geek moment – video games, comics and graphic design colliding in the beauty of full colour pages, gloss-coated card and disc-based assets. But, like I said, it would end up in the cupboard, so, as much as my materialistic-mind craves it, there’s no way I’d ever dish out the cash for such a commodity.

Instead, why not take a look at GameSpot UK getting their dirty, showvenistic fingers all over its limited edition pages in this video tease. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a break from my unnecessary desires and start catching up on my reading. More collector-confessions from me soon.

Uncharted Solar System

Adrift. Adrift for so many years. Lost in the depths of space. All but forgotten by those I promised myself I would protect. Alone and unaided. What happened? A wormhole? A time anomaly? Or something indiscernible by human comprehension? When did it happen? Can I return from whence I came?

Awoken from my dreamless sleep at last. Now I am the only living thing for billions of miles – to my knowledge at least. Drifting ceaselessly in the metallic can that has been my home and that may soon become my tomb as well. My mortal essence weeps for the end, yet my spirit will not let me be consumed by darkness. Look hither. A great orb approaches. As I peer through the musty frame of my observation window, I am in awe.

Such majesty.

In the distance a singular blue giant illuminates my orbit, casting a crystalline glow on the planet’s atmosphere. Brilliant tones of blue and bronze as my eyes spy landmasses and oceans wide enough to engulf even the tallest mountain. Swirling pufts of cloud can be seen across the titan, creating ephemeral shapes in the sky and hiding scattered sections of the surface below. Surfing the stratosphere of the globe, it is free of comm satellites, orbital stations and space junk. It is like gliding the crest of a wave for the first time. Boundless, enriching and indescribable.

As my ship moves closer I press myself face right up against the glass – a thin layer of transparent protection between me and the deadly vacuum of space. A wondrous tapestry of colour leaps forward. Golden browns, shimmering greens, faded greys and creamy whites, all meddling together to form the uneven continents before me. Towards the edge of one slice my mind deciphers what could be some kind of city or settlement. Could be that I am not as alone as I first thought?

Like an old friend welcoming one home, the celestial body acknowledges my presence. My spacecraft. Nothing but a speck amid the solar vista. Rotating on its trajectory. All wires, automated electronics and complex computer systems in this place of silent splendour. Nature on a bohemian scale. The star at the epicentre of the solar system is blinding to behold, even at this distance. Were the planet any closer it would surely be melted by the sheer energy of its heavenly parent. I clench my eyes tightly even as the shades engage to shield me from the harmful rays.

Gently I open them again. The danger has passed. But another problem has arisen. My craft is trapped in the planet’s gravitational pull – alert tones sound and flashing indicators blink around my entire being. Scientist. Explorer. Pilot. Right now the situation calls for only one of those skills – which I do not have. If I am to survive I must try. Strap in, helmet on and seat in the upright position. The planet’s pull is already beginning to rip my craft to shreds. The G-force is incredible. My whole mind feels like it’s about to be split in two. But I have not travelled this far and survived this long to perish now. There is still strength in me and I still carry a vital cargo. Onward then, to the surface of this unknown world…

‘Set phasers to stunning’

To steal a quote I saw on the front of a film magazine, Star Trek honestly is ‘stunning’. In fact it’s easily the best film of the three or so cinema releases I’ve seen this year. Before I dip into a long, near endless account of Star Trek nostalgia I’ll sum things up for you real quick in the context of my viewing. My dad’s a big fan of the original series and when I was younger it kind of became a ritual thing to eat lunch and watch re-runs of Star Trek on Sunday. I love all the sci-fi paraphernalia in Trek but I’ve never been one to follow the law or canon too closely. I knew practically nothing about this year’s film going in, apart from seeing a trailer two weeks ago.

Confident, stylish and with plenty of fan-pleasing call-backs, I walked out of Star Trek with a feel-good sentiment that not every Hollywood remake or “reimagining” will turn out to be a horrific mess. I fully enjoyed it. No matter how many of these opinion posts I write; I’m no film critic, they are just that, my opinion. Just to play devil’s advocate, one might argue that the film didn’t offer anything new beyond the usual blockbuster expectations – SFX, a predictable plot and stuff going BOOM! But, you know what? That’s absolutely fine by me when the medium is used to its full potential, as it was in Star Trek. It may not win any Academy Awards, because, let’s face it, apparently sci-fi, comic book and blockbuster movies just aren’t Oscar material, but it’s precisely the kind of experience the big screen thrives on.

I do often wonder what other people in the cinema are thinking during the viewing. That middle-aged man in the business suit; hmm, this bar scene reminds me of my carefree student days, the cinema attendant in the corner on his eighth viewing that day ; I wonder if I’ll ever get to make a film like this someday, or the grumpy looking girlfriend; Why did I let David drag me to this? It’s sssoooo boring! Perhaps one day I’ll find out, if I ever inherit the ability to read minds. For me, the answer is quite simple. I haven’t picked up a pirate DVD in years simply because the viewing experience is utter tosh. People work hard to make films and I work hard to earn my money, so I’ve no problem paying the admission fee to see a film if it’s a satisfying experience. And Star Trek fulfilled my pandering need for escapism in moon-sized heaps.

The flashy sci-fi Federation gear was there. The costumes – the science guys in blue, the pilots or commanders in yellow and the red guys, whoever they are, security or something. Olympian shots of the starship Enterprise set amid even grander space phenomena. The on-screen brilliance of going to warp speed, that probably costs tens of thousands. A cast that appeared comfortable and fully aware of the expectation surrounding the film. A well-made script that works beautifully as a standalone film, but still manages to pay homage to the legacy of Star Trek, without feeling like a complete rehash. And enough ‘space action’ to make me want to dive straight into the projector screen as if it were a portal to the film itself.

Purely as a lover of science-fiction, astronomy and all things celestial, the film was gob-smacking. Kirk and Sulu freefalling from orbit to the precarious head of a planetary mining beaming. A black hole consuming a planet from the inside out – obliterating life in one terrifying instant. An octopus-like alien starship that reeked of menace and danger the moment it emerged from the murky darkness. A climactic last minute escape. And all with the usual bravado and gung-ho battle plans from Starfleet’s premier peacekeeping force. All of this and more had me leaning forward in my seat, desperate that my dreams of a projector-screen-portal might come true. Meanwhile a grumpy looking female spouse really was sitting next to me. Clearly her response was completely illogical

It wasn’t only the startling depiction of space and special effects wizardry that impressed me. The cast were far better than I original expected, given the history of Hollywood rebirths and the series’ legacy. Chris Pine as the risk-taking womanising, Captain Kirk, was a prime choice and certainly seems fit to sit in the captain’s chair by the end of the film. Performing less head operations in his role as the emotionless Mr Spock, Zackary Quinto had a LOT to prove. Some gripping scenes of lost, love and regret merged with some classic Spock moments made him a true star on that holo-screen. Karl Urban as Bones, Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Coo as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Zoe Saldaña as the voluptuous Uhura; all wonderful interpretations of the original characters, with some semi-comedic references that almost sound out of place at times. Add in an irrefutable Leonard Nimoy performance – that’s more than just a cameo, it actually makes some sense regarding the plot – and you’re done.

Simply put, if you love eye-engulfing space vistas, cross-species romance and stuff blowing up, you’ll love Star Trek. If you’ve played enough video games to know that ‘when in doubt, shoot everything’ you’ll love Star Trek. If you like teleportation, phasers, communicators, and engaging your imaginary warp drive with the broken heater button in your second-hand car, you’ll love Star Trek. If you know enough about the series to enjoy this film trailer with understandable apprehension or this snippet from the original series with fuzz nostalgia, you’ll love Star Trek. Of course, I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy it as much as the space-loving ravings of this daydreamer (whose childhood dream of going into space was crushed by the realisation that technology won’t be advanced enough to make it as easy as hopping in the car to KFC for a good few centuries) imply. Live long and prosper.

NTSU Awards 2009

Yesterday evening the annual Nottingham Trent Students Union Awards took place. This year the awards were expanded to include categories from the entire range of Union activities and services.

Having just started work with Trent Media this year I was nominated for two awards – Trent Media Best Newcomer Award and Platform Volunteer of the Year – for my vigorous editorial work with Platform magazine and the Platform gaming blog.

It was an honour to win both of the awards I was nominated for this year. I look forward to continuing my work with Platform.

Awards

  • Trent Media Best Newcomer Award
  • Platform Volunteer of the Year