A Moment in Time

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
– William Blake, excerpt from Auguries of Innocence

As my first year of blogging comes to a close I can’t help but think back on what a year it has been. I’ve experienced many new things and this personal web space has given me the freedom to express myself.

To close out the year I thought I’d combine a photo I’ve taken (which I feel encompasses much of the hectic, busy lives we all lead) and one of my favourite poems by William Blake.

Hopefully next year will be just as, if not more eventful, and I plan to record and muse about as much of it as possible, here on Journey to the East.

Terrorists, Telekinesis and Child Care

Before this year is done there’s just enough time to give my thoughts on yet another literary video game tie-in.

Drew Karpyshyn returned to pen the second Mass Effect novel, Mass Effect: Ascension. As with his first book on the complicated interstellar societies that inhabit Mass Effect’s world, Ascension is awash with ethical and moral comparisons between species and people. While it may not primary be about the cultural subtext, the Mass Effect books have certainly surprised me with their ability to ask tough questions of humanity.

Set after the events of the original game, the galaxy has been rocked by Saran and the Geth’s assault on Council space. But this story isn’t about the aftermath or what happened to Commander Shepard (the hero from the game).

This is about, Gillian Grayson, a young girl who happens to have profound abilities that make her extremely valuable to a terrorist organisation known as Cerberus. Gillian is a ‘biotic’ – which in the world of Mass Effect means she can move things with her mind – who has been enrolled in a special Alliance project for children with these abilities. However, she also has a mental condition which makes her less responsive and difficult to teach.

Kahlee Sanders (the trixie Alliance scientist from the prequel novel) is a professor on the project, and soon she, and security chief Hendel, are forced to flee the comfortable confines of the school in a bid to save Gillian from Cerberus, and her own father.

I found Mass Effect: Ascension to be a much more personal and more conflicting tale than Karpyshyn’s previous work. And as a part of the large Mass Effect franchise, the book introduces more questions than it answers, making for fertile ground that could be exciting to see in future editions of the series. You’ll pick up on references to the first game more acutely if you’ve played it, but this book can be enjoyed with without preliminary texts. Most of all though, the moral struggles between father, daughter and the carers keep this space-sailing adventure grounded in human values.

Fighter in Training

During a net search while writing about the Street Fighter IV comic book series I came across Neo Empire!

This website converges the UK fighting game scene in one place, with tournaments, forums and reports on all the developments in the world of fighting games. While they appear to be an independent group, they list many partners on their website which suggest they’re running a pretty impressive outfit.

Back in April I had a go on the arcade version of Namco’s Tekken 6, and before that I was shameless defeated on the arcade version of Street Fighter IV during the launch of the console version. I’d like to think I’m of average skill level with fighting games, but since I consider Soulcalibur my mainstay – purely because I can get my head round countering and pulling off one or two specials – I bet the kids online would thrash me like a sculpture made from papier-mâché.

Still, I’ve always had a vague wonderment at how invested fighting fans are in the world of their chosen fighting franchise, and even more so at their fighting skill. Perhaps more than any other genre out there, fighting games really do require the absolute epitome of technique and focus if players are to master the gameplay.

In the words of Chris Tucker: “Heck, anybody can shoot somebody.” But can you do a back flip, high-counter, duck, pull a reversal and transfer into a steaming dragon kick? Nope? Well, that makes two of us. Fortunately, I’m quite content enjoying the action from the sidelines, like one of the nameless 2D background characters cheering like an idiot. I’d even take one of those guys with the boombox.

Even with my fighting game deficit, I’ll be playing and learning as much about the genre as I can because, despite its relatively niche status these days, the appetite for virtual face-offs never dies. The book I unwrapped only yesterday – Arcade Mania! – is sure to keep me thumbing through it to dig out all sorts facts and details that will help in my quest to understand more. (A huge thank you to madtyger.) That way, if I ever get the chance to challenge a Japanese fighting master in the flashing halls of a Shinjuku arcade at least my defeat will be graceful.

Capcom’s Comical Side

One-on-one fights of an over-the-top and often backbreaking capacity are common in comics. So, what video game genre is there more fitting than fighting to adapt into the printed pictorial medium? In fact, I’m a little surprised it’s taken me this long to open the pages of a comic based on one of the many famed fighting series – there are so many out there they’re practically a comic book sub-sector.

Right, forgive me purists if my knowledge is little flawed – I don’t have instant recall of years of fighting game canon just waiting to be unleashed. The series I’ve been reading is… [to be read in a booming announcer voice]

Street Fighter IV!

Another miniseries from Udon Comics, the Canada-based art studio behind much of Capcom’s Western produced print materials that shot to fame with the launch of their first Street Fighter comic serial in 2003. The team responsible for the SFIV miniseries includes Joe Ng (art) and Ken Siu-Chong.

Being someone who’s not followed Street Fighter’s 20-year history I suspected I’d come across tons of references and be stumped by inexplicable unnamed entrances. That all happened but to a lesser degree than had I original expected. Centred on Crimson Viper, Abel and Seth (the new additions to the Street Fighter roster), the story concerns, long-time baddie, Bison’s shady organisation, S.I.N., stealing fighters from around the world to harness the dark energy within them.

It’s not the most ambiguous comic out there when it comes to plot, but I guess it’s suited for what the Street Fighter audience expects. And apparently, what Udon expect is for you to invest in every one of their series if you wish to enjoy the full breadth of the Street Fighter universe. There are a couple instances that refer you to issues in the Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Legends: Sakura series. These are mostly references to character back-story stuff, so it shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the SFIV comics.

My favourite moment came in issue #2 which sees student, Sakura, and lucha libre, El Fuerte, ambushed by Dan, Rufus and C. Viper on the set of a Japanese game show. After all, exclaiming combos out loud and random fighters challenging candidates to do battle for no apparent reason are part of why fighting games are so deliciously absurd. Akuma popping out of a jungle forest purely to do battle with the toughest person he can find (which happens to be Seth) is ridiculous in my view – but it’s no more outlandish than SFIV’s character arcs.

Forgetting the plot, the art really is the high mark throughout this series. Power, brooding gut punches, flaming kicks and specials that could fry you a prefect omelette make SFIV an ever stunning comic to look at. The artist has a way of drawing characters coming out of the frames which really makes things feel larger than life – mixing up the arrangement of action in a way I’d not yet come across before. The variant covers of the four-issue series, all drawn by Arnold Tsang, have this wonderful distorted quality to them, which I really dig, gives things a real sense of motion. Some great art, which anyone with an ounce of love for martial arts can appreciate, but all in all, this miniseries is definitely best left for Street Fighter lovers.

Happy Holidays

It’s has been a year of a hardship, change and insomnia for me. But it’s also be one of great discovers, newfound friendships and triumph. After a year travelling Nottingham and London it’s clear to me that I’ve barely scratched the surface of my home country.

I’ve learnt and experienced many new things and I made lots of exciting memories.

I hope you too have evolved in your own way.

Next year is a new decade, a fresh start and another leap into the unknown.

Cheers to 2009 and have a wonderful New Year!

Image: Random Pictures with a Restless Mind

Brick Yourself

During my time at GameCity this year I was flat-out blown away by the creations of the inventive, but admittedly oddly named, Spite Your Face Productions.

I wasn’t able to pen news stories for their two events at GameCity as I missed most of them and only collected limited information. However, here’s a video of what they got up to (backed by the very cool Vib-Ribbon theme): GameCity LEGO Workshops.

Take a look at some more of their awesome stop-motion animations parodying some iconic films, using LEGO sets for Spider-Man and Star Wars.

Another animation studio, Alaskan Military School, also created an intriguing viral campaign for the festival. Recognise any of those sound effects?