An Intent to Thrill

My word, I’ve been swamped with work these past few weeks. So, much work in fact that I don’t even have time to explain it all.

I’ve got a work placement at Intent Media (Whoo!!) that starts in about twelve hours, so I better get some sleep.

Intent Media publishes a range of magazines and websites focused on entertainment industries. That’s everything from toys to video games. Their most notable publications are MCV (for game retailers) and Develop (for game developers). If I’m lucky, some my material should appear on one of their many websites this week or in one of their fabulous print magazines! I can’t tell you how excited (and scared) I am to be spending a few short days at this media company.

Well, if I return without setting the internet on fire or crashing their servers I’ll tell you all about it.

Peace out.

So, where’s the army, Sarge?

I’m not sure whether I’ve already spoken about this on the blog, so this is likely the first time. However, this particular subject is something I’ve actually been cranking on for the past nine months.

A website. Platform needs a website. Not a minisite, not a singular blog, not a PDF archive of print magazines, a true website – with links to individual categories, tags and attractive layout and design.

Well, at long last it seems things might actually be beginning to come together. I’ve been in discussion with NTSU’s designer, Stephanie Combs, about constructing the Platform website on the newly launched student union site. Unfortunately the content management system the site is built on is way too basic to host a proper media site. I’d even tried implementing some of my design ideas myself, but was met with usability errors and all manner of wordy, unfathomable internet nonsense.

After some conversation, today Steph got back to me and said that my proposal for our own Platform website may not be so farfetched after all. Using free publishing tools, such as WordPress, and her own web design skills, Steph plans to build a new Platform website within the next month. Naturally, it will have its own domain name (e.g. www.platform-online.com) and should have the functionality to provide, at the very least, a basic level of media content. The ‘surfacing’ (how content is arrange so that it can be found and accessed by users) of this content is still under discuss, but I’ve got lots of plans in store once things are up and running.

Some sites that have been key inspirations for me so far are Edge Online and the Guardian.co.uk. Platform’s friendly rivals, Impact Magazine (run by students at the University of Nottingham), have also been an interesting source of what’s good, but also what’s best to avoid, when building a student media website. Created by, Philip Morton (who also maintains a video games website of his own, Thunderbolt), the site is a bit plain for my tastes, but it exhibits some of the functionality and accessibility I hope to see on our own website.

Even though I’m not one for social networking, we are planning to make use of these types of services on the new site. And we’ll likely be pimping out, Fly FM, our radio affiliates’ website and Twitter feed.

It still (very) early days, but I’m confident that in a few weeks time the site will be up and running, with all of our existing content ported over to it. I’m also sitting on a bunch of articles and interviews from my trip to Develop that I honestly hope get read once the site launches. Admittedly they are old news already, but if the site had been live already it would have a real coup for Platform. Fingers crossed they still will be.

I should have more news from the Trent Army for you in a couple weeks.

Platform is finally heading online!

Emotional Gears

Gears of War is a shockingly good action game, however its story is downright undistinguishable. The characterisation isn’t what you’d call ‘emotional engaging’ either. So, not for the first time I found myself seriously doubting the potential of a series’ additional narrative merchandise. In the case of Gears of War: Aspho Fields, there was a chance for the game’s bog standard story to redeem itself.

The book (written by Karen Traviss) is the first in an expected series of titles based on Gears of War series. Though, the cover states quite firmly that it’s a prequel, half of the story is in fact an aftermath to the events of the game. What’s even more surprising is that there is a much stronger emphasis on characters here. Over the book’s twenty-two chapters you discover more about the life of Marcus Fenix and his brother in arms, Dominic Santiago. The prequel story, about a critical COG operation to steal enemy intelligence and end the Pendulum Wars, is exciting and actually adds a lot to the character’s back-stories.

The unexpected arrival of Bernadette Mataki (a COG officer missing for fourteen years), who was present when Dominic’s brother was killed, is the reason the prequel story also has some emotional weight too. The customary taboo language is here, but is offset by the thoughts of some surprisingly conflicted characters, most notably, Carlos and Dominic Santiago, and Victor Hoffman. There were moments when I felt the characters were procrastinating a bit too much. But then again, the story is set on planet that has been entrenched in an eighty-year war, making much of their confusion all the more human. For example, in one chapter Hoffman is deliberating whether it’s right for him to shot enemy civilians (scientists who are working on a WMD that could kill millions), weighting up the moral values and the lives of his men and the country he’s defending.

Much to my surprise I found Gears of War: Aspho Fields to be a thoroughly engaging and meaty read. A former defence correspondent, Traviss clearly knows how to impart the tension of war in her literary works. I did want to hear more about the events of ‘Emergence Day’, but I’m sure that’s something Epic is saving for later. An excellent book that fills in the game’s many blanks and leaves you wanting more.

Cogs and Art

For a video game series that started out with such a ropy storyline, the Gears of War narrative universe has expanded quicker than the modern art scene. After shotgun-ing and chainsawing my way through the first Gears of War, Xbox 360’s frat boy blockbuster of 2006, I’ve experienced enough to record a well-versed opinion on the game. Here we are again with another ‘humans vs aliens’ shooter plot, which means horrifying-ugly-foes-you-never-want-to-think-twice-about-killing, a burly team of misfit soldiers lead by their silent (but troubled) leader, and a selection of memorable environments filled with concrete, machinery and the odd kickable-door that make for fun combat scenarios.

Yes, Gears of War has all of these things. One thing that resonated with me in particular was the game’s art style – expectantly referred to as ‘destroyed beauty’ by the developers. It’s not really the character or creature designs, but the architecture. With the visuals as stunning as they are in high definition, the ornate crests and spires of the ruined city (Jacinto) have a strange reality about them. Thanks to the over-the-shoulder camera and some haze and motion blur effects, I found the experience of traversing a deserted city, infested with Locust underground, to be genuinely unnerving.

Things that were clear to the eye had grander and scale. Things that were further away looked ominous, as if they were hiding something worse than the creatures I’d already encountered. I’m probably seeing more than your average player would in the design, I mean it’s not a huge departure from the post-apocalyptic worlds of other games. But there is something to be said when you’re passing a huge dome-topped embassy-like building that could have been a library or art gallery, or when a mammoth-sized Corpser (with crab-like legs) attacks you amongst the hive-like rock formations of a glowing Imulsion mine.

The story, however, is absolute pants. One minute you’re rescuing a trapped assault team, next you’re making your way through darkened streets in search of transport – making every effort to avoid total darkness, least you be devoured by the Kryll (piranha-like bats). To where and why? Turns out, to go detonate a bomb in an underground mining facility, in an attempt to cripple the Locust. And straight after that you’re off to Marcus Fenix’s childhood mansion to apparently retrieve critical info about your thick-skinned enemy. Oh, and just to top things off, the climax takes place on a train. It’s practically got all the action movie set pieces ticked, only problem is it makes little to no sense at all. The developers may as well have been making it up as they went along.

I shan’t deny that the action in Gears of War is pegging-20. When Locust creep out of their emergence holes and start swarming towards you, your heart can’t help betting a couple notches faster. It’s exhilarating. And John DiMaggio is just right as the gruff Marcus Fenix. Pity about the story, but lucky for Epic, Karen Traviss stepped in to provide a proper foundation for the game.

Copycat Culture?

I recently stumbled across this great documentary about copyright law and digital media. In today’s internet-driven landscape, large commercial organisations are feeling the pinch from piracy and digital distribution. The lines between freedom of use and the copyright laws of old have blurred.

Another reason this documentary, Good Copy Bad Copy (directed by Andreas Johnsen, Ralf Christensen and Henrik Moltke), is of significance to me now is it features an artist I’ve grown quite fond of in the past few years, Danger Mouse. And his latest work, Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present: Dark Night of the Soul, has also been a victim of copyright legislation.

Personally, I feel that sharing cultural works is important for continuing to build relations between individuals and nations. The web has changed many things and business is one them. Creatives and businesses need to be paid, but the law’s approach to new technology also needs to be updated in order to reflect the current state of modern cultures.

What do you think about sharing creative works over the internet? Should we be allowed, or should licenses and business come first?

D. Chronicler

The silent watcher
The factual curator
The town speaker
The keeper of secret secrets
The travelling companion

The ever on-call
The cultural emissary
The archivist extraordinaire
The caffeine-drinking reporter
The bookish type

The dirty harry
The undercover operative
The student of many disciplines
The heartbroken lover
The tormented witness

The irreverent joker
The hungry bystander
The unappreciated assistant
The forgotten friend
The vague viewer

The thirty-third royal secretary
The artistic articulator
The private audience
The editorial chief
The unconventional librarian

The trusted black sheep
The lonely spectator
The famed researcher
The covert observer
The pale silhouette

The aging storyteller
The daring investigator
The historical director

Vivid Reflections

We call ourselves Runners. We exist on the edge between the gloss and the reality – the Mirror’s Edge’ – Faith Connors.

After so many lacking comic book story arcs I wasn’t expecting the Mirror’s Edge prequel miniseries to escape the pattern of empty promises. Developed by DICE, Mirror’s Edge is the second new IP from EA to get a comic book adaptation. The six-issue series tells a story that leads more or less directly to the video game. However, unlike the Dead Space comics, which were released prior to the game itself, WildStorm debuted their Mirror’s Edge miniseries alongside the game’s release. Aside from the concept of first-person platforming, the game was criticised for its underwhelming cut-scenes and vague story.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I found myself absorbed in the comics’ blend of espionage, rooftop-gymnastics and mystery. Written by esteemed fantasy writer (who is also credited with writing the game’s story), Rhianna Pratchett, Faith’s totalitarian world is home to a more personal story in this miniseries. An assault on a fellow Runner – carrying surveillance documents of her father – leads Faith on a mission to discover her father’s unseen enemy. Faith has no choice but to confront her past. Along the way the reader learns more about her training, her family roots and a terrible secret that questions her occupation and her beliefs.

Bringing shape and form to the clean glass buildings and jungle-gym-rooftops of Faith’s world is Matthew Dow Smith. Though, his jagged-edged characters and pale backdrops are no better than the generic art style seen in the game’s cut-scenes. And neither of them is as satisfying as the concept art and CGI renders created by the art team at DICE. The exceptions happen to be the cover art. The image above is taken from issue #5, beautifully realised by Niko Henrichon. I really love the way this piece in particular captures the urgency and ever-present danger of a Runner’s life. The cover feels as though it was designed with story in mind, and not just ‘spectacle’.

While it starts off pretty by the numbers, things do pick up halfway through. And true to the term ‘direct prequel’, we do indeed find out what fall took Faith out of commission for a while, before the game’s tutorial level. Smith’s art – no matter how cyber-punk-esque – just doesn’t do it for me. I would have preferred greatly if Henrichon lent his delicate touch to ink and illustrate the whole series and not just its covers. So, Parkour fans, rejoice! The Mirror’s Edge miniseries has passed inspection with favourable accolades. If EA are working on a sequel for the video game they better have Pratchett involved somewhere on the production. Like Faith, there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Vinyl Record Day

Yesterday was the anniversary of Thomas Edison’s phonograph – auspiciously referred to as Vinyl Record Day. An event that was quite unknown to me, that is, until I stumbled across an article by James Hurley. As digital downloads continue to rise and rise in popularity and quality, I found his defence of physical distribution for the music industry to be an encouraging read. Those who enjoy vinyl records may also be interested in the Vinyl Factory.

In celebration of the format, I spend some time sentimentally observing the cover art of my own (small) record collection. Had my record player been accessible to me I would have definitely played a track or two, also. Digital downloads are great, but rock on vinyl.